Life in Valivade, India
Memories of the USSR
I don't remember the deportation, because I was three years old at that time, but one of the events has come back to me like in the a dream. After all these years, as an old man I have started to analyze all my recollections. As it turns out, I have very good recall. This recently helped me to decide to go deep into Siberia, in 2007.
Before the war, my father was a professional officer in the rank of Major He was one of those who taught at the Cadet School in Lwow. Prior to this, following some great misfortunes, he had fought in WWI as a member of the Pilsudski Legions.
Mum had completed her studies at the Jagiellonian University. She received a Master of Arts but, having three children, she took care of the household and didn't work before the war,
As our father was in the armed forces, he had been mobilized at the start of the war and he crossed the border into Hungary along with the rest of the Army. He was interned there and was later a Prisoner of War of the Germans.
I don't remember most of this, but I heard of it from my elders, especially my nanny, who worked at our home before the war and who was deported with us to Kazakhstan. In any case, we were deported from Lwow on 13 April 1940.
As an adult, I met a man at work – Mr. Józef Milewicz – who was an eyewitness to the deportation and told me how exactly it happened; how we were put into cattle cars at the Lwow railway station.
In 1942, my Mum was forced to work at a collective farm, grazing cattle. The cattle were taken from the mountains, from Kirgizja, and grazed here, then were killed and sent to the front. I went there once and the cows hit me so badly that people thought I would not survive it.
Later my Mum and Mrs. Serbeńska knew that we could travel after the amnesty.. They knew that Anders Army was being organized in the south, and they headed there with their children. They eventually reached Katta-Kurgan in Uzbekistan.
It was somewhere at the end of 1941. Masses of Polish civilians were travelling to reach Uzbekistan. They knew that Anders Army was planning to evacuate to Persia – modern day Iran.
A massive crowd of people formed there, because the German Army was approaching Stalingrad, and this was pushing the entire civilian population of Ukrainians and Belarussians to the east. A lot of people were there. Conditions in the area were not conducive to survival. Food was very difficult to come by.
Epidemics of typhoid, typhus and pneumonia started there. People started to fall ill and died in large numbers. There were dozens of funerals each day. Having no food, my elder brother also fell ill. I know this from what I heard from my nanny.
Ziuk died in January, while my Mum Lidka died in April 1942. After that my younger brother and I were sent to the orphanage. I remember this orphanage quite well as it was such a dark room. The orphanage was written about by Mrs. Tarnogórska, who was in Balachadi.
I was there for some time. It was a devastating experience for me. My brother was extremely ill. He got dysentery. I don't want to describe it in detail, but when the sphincter muscle of his anus would protrude, I had to put it back. Horrible scenes were connected with it this.
When he became ill, I desperately wanted to escape from this orphanage, because of the horrible conditions there. We were visited by our nanny, who had been with us in Lwow. One day we decided to escape from this orphanage. I can still fully visualize this escape. It is as though I am seeing it all today. It was simply a very intense experience.
I cannot remember if I had a Mum or not. If I had an elder brother. I don't remember at all. I just found out about them later. I can only remember this younger brother. I remember him very well in this orphanage. And I remember the escape. We had seen the direction from which our nanny came to us and we decided to escape to her.
I remember that there was such a ditch. I didn't know at that the time that it was such small irrigation ditches were called „aryki”. I had trouble dragging my brother across it. Then we followed a path. We saw a road with mulberry trees growing next to it. A Polish soldier was sitting under one of the trees. We did not want him to see us because we were afraid that he would return us to the orphanage. So we continued walking and, along the way, there was an Uzbek village. There some Uzbek boys attacked us. They took all our clothes and left us naked. So we had no choice but to return to the soldier. He took us to the village and got our clothes back.
After this, he did not let us go. He accompanied us further, crossing a brook. We passed the river bend and we finally reached the officers' canteen. There the officers kept asking us where we had come from. We didn't want to admit it, but when they gave us chocolates we told them that we were from the orphanage. Of course they brought us back there.
Later we learned that our nanny from Lwow was working near this canteen. Her name was Maria Stawicka. We had been close to her, but unfortunately we did not reached her.
My brother became even more sick. There was nothing to be done. There were over-land transports to Persia, modern-day Iran, and I was taken to Meshed on one of the first transports. Unfortunately, I got sick in Meshed. The rest of the children went further. Most probably, this was one of the groups that went to the camp at Balachadi, but I stayed behind. I stayed and I was ill. I’m not sure but it was for about one month.
I regained my health in Meshed. I remember that we lived in a very nice villa, with greenery all around. Through the fence, I saw Polish soldiers marching, kicking up dust. After about one or two months, a transport of children who had been ill was organized. We were brought to the orphanage in Teheran.
Of course, I remember this trip very well. We were loaded onto trucks, which kicked up a lot of dust and made the canvas flaps lift up. We drove through high mountains overlooking abysses. We reached Teheran, camp no. 2. It was a transfer camp. There were a lot of soldiers, tents and Poles. There were latrines, which we kids remembered, because we had to sit on a pole and we were afraid that we will fall into them. It was a hallmark for all the boys who were there.
I was moved from camp no. 2 to the orphanage and I was there the whole time. But my nanny was also at this orphanage. She was a kitchen helper, she cleaned dishes, etc. She told me about the death of my second brother.
The situation was as follows: There was a last transport from Russia – from Krasnovodsk to Pahlevi, and this nanny took my ill, younger brother Michał on the ship with her. Unfortunately, he died on this ship on the second day and was thrown into the Caspian Sea. The Caspian Sea is his grave.
India and Valivade
India and Valivade are a very interesting part of the story, as they were the place of my first awareness of life. I reached Valivade, Kolhapur in July 1943, with the Polish children’s’ orphanage from Karaczi, Malir. It was an amazing surprise for me, because I was placed in a big room with about 30 boys. Being tired after the trip from Bombay, I fell asleep.
First I have to tell you how it happened that I went to live among civilians with the nanny. It is a most important part of this story. There were around 1,000 children in the orphanage, while a total of about 4,000 people – mothers with children, and elders, and older youth – took care of their own food, etc.
It wasn’t like in the orphanage. It was unique on a worldwide scale. There was no other camp like Valivade. Talking about its organization I have to say that it was a fantastically organized Polish camp. It included administrative, educational and cultural institutions, police, and a fire brigade. It also included: a water supply system, latrines, baths - there was everything. Everyone living outside the orphanage received money for living expenses. Naughty Andrzej , who ''hated going to school'', called his time in Valivade his fairytale childhood, where he took ''life as a game''
When I was in the orphanage, I was in organized groups. This is when I had to go to school, I had to learn. I was in naval Beaver Scouts. It was very fashionable at that time. Everything was organized. We also had jamborees, games, participation in public holidays – there was everything.
But what do I remember the most? I discovered that there was a river nearby. I didn’t know then what the name of it was. I found out later that this is the Panczganka River. There were two things about this river that fascinated me. First, there was a deep well from which a Hindi man took water, in a huge jug, to water the sugar cane fields.
Further behind this well there was a dam. It was something great! Because this dam stopped water but it also looked different at different times of the year. When there was a monsoon there was a huge flood. It could come nearly to our camp, but thanks to the dam it did not happen. But when the river was lower in January, February and further, we could even swim through this dam. There were locks there, which Hindi men covered using wooden boards. We had such great fun there. I got to know this dam in detail at the time. For me in general the, Panczganka River and those… There was also a Hindi village, where I played with Hindi children. It was something wonderful.
When I was in the orphanage, I couldn’t move away from the place, from the barracks, from the school, etc, because I was guarded most of the time. But it happened that, after 2.5 years (over half of my stay there), the personnel of the orphanage changed. My nanny, who worked in the kitchen of my orphanage, left. With the help of the Red Cross she received my father’s approval to take care of me. She took me to the civilian part of the camp. At that time the personnel of the entire orphanage changed. Also Mrs. Wereszczakowa also left the orphanage and started civilian life. Mrs. Wereszczakowa has a daughter – Irena - and she took on the education of Jane Otto. I attended the same class with her brother – Mieczysław.
The director of the orphanage and at the same time the director of primary school no. 3, which I attended is my teacher - Mrs. Figuła. The colleagues that I remember are: Szpałek, Otto (a brother of my future stepsister) and Kaleta. We called them: “Kaleta, Otto, Szpałek – brave railwaymen”, because they stepped on the railway embankment and when a train passed, they whistled. The train stopped and there was a huge to do in Valivade. “Kaleta, Otto, Szpałek – brave railwaymen”.
All the barracks had arcades and near them there were laneways. Very quickly, people started to make garden patches there and grew various flowers, bindweed, etc. The area became very green. They also grew papayas, as they grew very quickly and were a very good fruit. In one year, the whole camp became greener.
Besides this, there were schools – three schools and later a fourth – a primary school, a high school, a college, and a trade school. There was an educational department, a theatre and a cinema. The Hindis set up the cinema and we went there.
Thanks to my moving to the civilian part of the camp, I got to know India, because my nanny was a simple person. She took care of the food and house, but she didn’t realize that I simply fooled her. I hated school. She dressed me, sent me to school and I just could not find my way to it. Immediately I would turn right and go straight to the river. Thanks to this, I started to know the Hindi people, their habits, how they behaved, what they do, what they grow. In general, I spied on everyone. And because I have a unique memory, I remember all those pathways till now.
Just imagine – there were travelers coming to Valivade. There were people from around the world, but no one knew how to get to the Panczganka River. I would stand at the railway station and tell people which direction to take and we would go.
At that time, I treated my entire time there as a game. For me Valivade was a fairytale. For such a boy, dreaming about freedom, Valivade met this requirement. I don’t know what would have happened to me, if I had stayed there. That was the imagination of a boy who doesn’t have anything in front of him. I didn’t care that they were forcing me to go to school, because I simply couldn’t find my way to the school.
That is why we went to the cinema. Various films like Tarzan were often shown there. We had the fantastic scenery of lianas, mango trees, etc. We made tunnels in the mango trees and we played tag on them, not on the ground. We also made nests on the high locust-trees.
We started to raise animals. We caught squirrels and raised them. We raised mongoose as they guarded us against cobras very well. It sometimes happened that a cobra would bite someone, so we had to be very careful. Cobras were famous there and the mongoose fought very well with them. At the end, we decided – as a big lark – to start raising wasps. In 1946, when people started to leave the settlements, the wasps set up a nest behind the bamboo mats.
We were moving the mats. The wasps didn't have nests like in Poland – i.e. round ones. They had flat nests like our bees, with honeycombs. We were destroying them with bamboo sticks and we had to hit them properly. The wasps were coming out and we had to hit them. If not they would bite our faces, which was very painful. We were bitten very often. We would flee, but it was no problem for the wasps. They were still biting us like hell.
Later we put those wasp nests above our entrance doors. It created fortresses. If someone came, he couldn't get in because the wasps would bite. My nanny was cooking for people – it was her job. And those wasps bit her clients. She got nervous, boiled hot water and poured it all on the wasps.
Witnessing death...in Valivade
I also remember very powerful events. I remember that once I was going to the river. I was going there every day, because I didn't like school. I saw that Hindi men were making a pile of wood, and put an old lady on it. Horrible. I remember that she had a yellow complexion, something awful, and they were setting fire to her. I waited there while it burned. I can still clearly see the scene. It was very powerful experience for me.
I observed the neighbours. At the time, there was a village. There were very flimsy buildings there. It's difficult to call them houses as they were so strange. I know that there were doors, suspended with strings of beads. I looked inside and there was a math lesson going on. The teacher was standing with a big ruler and he had 10-12 pupils, and he was teaching them math. I looked in there often and I would say “jegdonki, jegdonki, czarpata” and they would run after me and I would escape.
After the monsoon, when the water was subsiding, Hindi people, especially Hindi women, would go in a procession. They put their idol Gamesa (the one with an elephant trunk) on a small altar on a cart. They would place different food beside it. They were going in a procession and singing a Hindi song. Of course, I didn't understand what they were singing, but I learned this song.
In 1946, I was sent to Panczgani to convalesce. There was a settlement, a town in the mountains between Kolhapur and Puna, where children were sent for treatment. They were sent from all the camps. There were villas there, and temporary classes. Normally children were sent there for 2-3 months.
And when I was there, Mahatma Gandhi was also there, but unfortunately I did not met him. The adults had the possibility to meet him, but I did not.
When I returned to Valivade, there was a rumour that Mahatma Ghandi would visit Valivade. I was waiting for it very much. I don't know why, but I was very anxious for it. Maybe because he was a tiny old man with glasses. He had a big stick and what's even better – a goat. I wanted to be sure to see this goat. He had a white goat. I know because there were drawings.
Unfortunately Gandhi didn't visit us. He was somewhere nearby, but he didn't visit our camp.
When Mr. Jagiellowicz ended his run as Camp Commander, a Hindi man assumed this position. I don’t remember his name – Bul or something like that. It’s written in our book. This Hindi man, the Commander, had a wife and two children – a son and a daughter - and he had a car. We called it “drynda” (junk). Anyway he would go for picnics at to the river and we children would run after this car to the river. And we observed them from a distance.
I showed off my swimming abilities and the commander once asked if I could take care of his children. I did it with pleasure, as I hoped that they will invite me there and treat me. I showed the son and daughter how to swim. I taught them a bit and then they treated me. I remember this relationship. I think he was Sikh, because he had such a nice turban. He was very handsome.
Lucky to be in Valivade
I was very lucky to be a wandering child. When I look back, I am the only one who survived from my whole family. So I have to say, that I live to give a testimony of the truth. How it was. I don’t know, what could have happened, if I had not gotten to Valivade.
There the world started for me. That is where my awareness grew. I didn’t have an idea of family life. I knew Poland only from stories. Had I stayed there I would have become Hindi. Because I didn’t have any references. I learned patriotism at school, but did not learn it in the same way as the older ones. Because they were learning patriotism at school, writing essays, what Poland looks like; how it looks in autumn, in spring, in summer. And me ? I nearly never attended school. So I was observing llife around me as it was. Life there was very poor.
I judged it at the time, and now that I have some perspective I can say that there were times when the Hindi people were living very poor. Very poor. I remember the little village, those cows, black cows.
At that time, India looked different than now. I can compare, as I visited in 2005 and now in 2014. I could see the fast-paced growth of India between 2005 and 2013. When we stayed in Valivade, there was poverty, much poverty.
The school had 12 children back then. When we visited now, there was a big group of children. There are up to 600 children per session. It is unbelievable, how well they are dressed. It means that India can afford for this youth to get an education. It is incomparable.
India's Independence day
At that time, in a middle of 1947, the Hindi Commander was not there anymore. The camp was in a state of liquidation. At that time, it was managed by a British woman – Mrs. Buton I think.
From the stories told by our scout leader Richard, lieutenant Zdzisław Peszkowski, and later our priest, I know that she was against ceremonies. But the Poles insisted and it happened with a lot of fanfare. Hindi people were very happy there. They organized these big events together with the scouts and the adults from the camp. There was an official ceremony, where the flag of independent India was hoisted. I remember that we sang the anthem and later there were sport competitions and celebrations, which lasted for three nights. There were parties and fireworks. They organized parties between barracks, with different food. Everybody was sitting and eating. What is most significant, is that they knew about our history. That we are refugees and they wished that we would gain independence for Poland.
It was very difficult for us, as we already knew, in year 1947, that we have lost the Eastern territories and we don’t have a home to go back to. Because our homes were there.
My life back in Poland
I completed my studies at the Warsaw School of Economics – it was Szkoła Główna Planowania I Statystyki during Communist times.
I had different jobs and then I finally got a job at the Design Office of Glass and Ceramic Industry. In this institution, I got a job as an Administrative Manager. I managed the whole office, but I didn't want to be an office manager. I wanted to be a designer and so I completed post-graduate studies in a second field - - to understand investment effectiveness and how to realise it.
When I was a manager there, I was also responsible for the archives, where designers would come with their projects. Mr. Józef Milewicz was the manager of these archives.nThis was in the 1980’s. Mr. Milewicz was an old, bald, very stately man, who seemed like he would like to have a chat with me. He once said: „Mr. Manager, can I ask you a question ?”. I said „Tell me, what is this all about”. He was embarrassed. So I repeated “Tell me”. „Was your father in the army ?”. I said „Yes”. „But before the war ?”. I said : „Yes, in the rank of Major”. „And he was from Lwow ?”. “Yes”. So you were taken to Siberia”. And I leaned the details of the deportations from him.
During socialist times, it was difficult to get together, and difficult to contact colleagues abroad. We were young then, we needed to take care of our job and earn a living, find a flat. When I finished my studies, I had only one suit. I had to start everything from scratch. Throughout the socialist times, we worded to earn enough to pay for a flat and that’s all.
President of ''Association of Poles in India 1942-1948''
After a time, when we settled down, we started to remember our connections. We learned that those who had been in India ended up settling all over the world. Literally. Most of them settled in England, but some were also in Canada, USA, South Africa, Australia, Italy and France. And some also came to Poland. But only a few people came back to Poland – approximately 10 %. Less than 500 persons came back here.
Our Association could only be created when we got our independence back. Wwe could associate again, after the events of the Round Table. But we had illegal meetings in the 1980’s, during Communist times. Father Zdzisław Peszkowski was our guide. He had been our scout instructor in India. He was one of two persons, who were sent from Anders Army to set scouting up: Mr. Peszkowski and Mr. Bronisław Pacewicz, who was responsible for teaching scouts' instructors. When Father Zdzisław Peszkowski came back to Poland in the 1950's he was a precursor of our later organisations and meetings.
Our focus was to commemorate our time at the Valivade camp, in Kolhapur, as all of us were connected with it. Only a small group of children was in Balachadi, while the rest of us were in Valivade. That's why we all started meeting together.
When the Association was established, it united everyone. Associations have existed since 1991. The Association in London is the central archival section. Here, in Poland, we had have a separate Association, which we registered in the court in 1991. From that time we have a board, we govern, etc. and what is the most important we organise our meetings, our reunions. In the early 1980’s, we had a very big reunion in Częstochowa.
We have organised reunions every second year since 1992. They have been held in Kraków, in Wasilków near Białystok, in Gdańsk, in Polanica, in Nałęczów. The last reunion in Poland was in Szczawnica and recently in London. So everything is now concentrated on the memory of our stay in Valivade. At the same time we cultivate and maintain relationships with local people, especially in Kolhapur. Our Hindi friend – Gaikwad – is there. He inspires us to keep those relationships strong.
We traveled there a few times. Previously, the Association in London organised such reunions. I organised one in 2005. It was incredible. The Office for War Veterans and Victims of Oppression organised such a reunion for us here in 2013. Mr. Gaikwad was one of the initiators of the monument of gratitude in the town of Kolhapur. The place that gave refuge to 5000 Poles, who stayed in this camp.