EUGENIA (LIPINSKA ) STANKIEWICZ’S STORY
Freed 'od kartofle do kartoszka'
Eugenia Lipinska was born July 15, 1925 in Osada Hallerowo, Gmina Tuczyn, powiat Rowne, woj. Wolyn.
The year 1939 brought great disaster and complete ruin to Poland. The great cities and towns, which had been built through the sweat, sacrifice and efforts of our fathers and forefathers, laid in ruin from the merciless strafing and aimless bombing of the planes, which roared through our skies day after day. The Polish nation, which for centuries has been the victim of persecution and war, had again become the blameless pawn between two ruthless dictators – Hitler and Stalin. There was no cause, save one, and that to wipe out the Catholic Faith in our country and follow suit in other countries.
This was a time when parents saw their children, and children saw their parents, die amidst the rubble with a prayer on their lips. It is a heart-rending sight for a mother to see her child, her own flesh and blood, torn apart by a bomb or a grenade. Here no mercy was shown, no help relied upon, our only thought being “what will be my lot tomorrow?” On September 1, 1939, great German, and later Russian, divisions rumbled through Poland. These were they who not only tore our nation apart, but set our homes on fire, destroyed our food and produce, and what’s more, killed and murdered our people without cause or justification.
When Poland fell, and our defenders returned in sadness, the Communist tore the eagles from their caps and insignia from their uniforms casting them on the ground only to trample on them in contempt. Our soldiers suffered greatly. They were bound together by the Reds, marched out onto dry farms, and under threat of a bayonet, were forced to lay on the ground while grenades were hurled at them. Those who survived after a few days were set free. It is difficult to recall, even to think about, the hard and strange lot, which befell us Poles. However, I can vouch for the many crimes and murders performed by the Reds, for I, a sixteen year old girl, was an eye witness and together with my parents underwent much suffering.
Under Russian control we were cast out like beasts from our homes that had been built with blood, sweat and tears. We left our homes with sorrow and grief in our hearts, and marched in search of warm shelter and food. The men were forced to register twice daily – morning and evening. This was our life – a life filled with fear and unhappiness until February 10, 1940. This date brought with it new horror, and engraved in the heart of each Pole a wound that will never heal nor be forgotten. We had already been cast out of our homes – now we were cast out of our dear country, a land absorbed with the blood and seeded with the skeletons of our heroes who bore a martyr’s death for our country.
It was 2:00 a.m. while all were sleeping that the Reds came barging through our shelter. My parents were ordered to leave, and I awakened to find my parents kneeling with outstretched hands while the Reds searched our shelter leaving it in shambles and turmoil. At this time my brother was very seriously ill and had not been able to leave his bed for several weeks. the Reds, however, showed no signs of mercy, but rather, placed him on a snowy and frozen sleigh, and thus began our never-to-be-forgotten journey.
Sitting in these cold, frozen sleighs, one often froze to the seat. Clad in my light clothing, I, too, became susceptible to the freezing cold. My fingers became numb, my flesh began turning blue, and in order to keep the circulation moving in my feet and fingers, I leaped from the sleigh and ran after it. The Reds, suspicious of everyone and everything, sent a soldier with his gun to see that I did not escape. There I was, helpless, running to keep myself alive, but I would not leave my parents. Whatever fate awaited them, I wanted the same. My brother lay dying, and my tears froze upon my cheeks as I tried to reason why it was happening – what was the cause? Driving by our country church, our beloved pastor, seeing us huddled together, raised his holy hands and blessed us with the Sign of the Cross. His assistant, like many others, had been cast in prison to await his own fate.
Upon reaching the first point of our destination, we found that we were just one family to be joined with hundreds of others, and huddled into cattle cars which outwardly were covered with frozen snow, and inwardly were cold and filthy. Innocent children sought warmth from their mothers, and cried for bread and water. Although the unhappy mother wept for her children, there was no way whatsoever she could help her child as the cars had been locked from the outside and the window was very small. Can you in your own mind picture a cattle car packed with human beings: fathers, mothers and children bewailing their fate? At each stop a little child was let through the little window with a rope about his stomach. In his hands was a utensil with which to gather some snow, and even though this was mixed with dirt and soot from the train, it was melted inside the car to alleviate the thirst of parent and children, and even to moisten the thirsty lips of a dying person. Crossing our country’s border, the land, which now lay in complete devastation and ruin, out of each breast, came the whisper “We shall not give up our land”, but not one of us had the strength to shout it.
It was only when we were deep in Russian territory, and only when the train stopped, was our door opened for a few seconds. It was only then we could breathe the fresh air. We would leap from the car and swing our arms and jump up and down to keep our circulation going. If the guard happened to be distracted, some of us would pick up pieces of coal with which to make a fire later on. Others picked up half-rotten and frozen potatoes and moldy bread that was thrown out by the Russian soldiers in the trains preceding ours – this was our only nourishment. Cold and hunger were the causes of hundreds of old people and children dying.
Two weeks before his death, my brother ceased to speak. There in the cattle car, he looked on people who could not help him. He looked at my parents and myself and saw how mercifully, but how helplessly, we looked at him. He was but eighteen years old when he died. Dead bodies could not be kept in the cattle cars, and thus when the train stopped, the dead bodies were cast out onto the snow where they became food for the ravishing beasts which tore their bodies apart. Thus you see that death was our only liberator – yet death was also cruel for she deprived us of making our peace with God, and the counsel and prayer of His representative, the Priest. I cannot, even now, tell you how I felt when my brother closed his eyes in death. How he longed to see a doctor of his soul, but they were not available as they, too, were hunted and arrested. Likewise, there was no medical aid. Thus ended the life of my brother. We saw how the hungry dogs and animals seized his poor remains when his body was cast onto the snow. What a horrible sight for those who loved him to behold – particularly my beloved mother. She was ready to hurl herself after her son, but other women restrained her, and tried unsuccessfully to comfort her. She never recovered from this ordeal.
After two months we were brought to Siberia that seemed to be the only place where the Reds could exterminate us without leaving any evidence of their brutality and crime. If a person didn’t die outright, he was the victim of frost and snow that rules the terrain. The Reds led us into buildings that had heavy steel bars enclosing the windows, inside of which was filth, dirt and even dung. In the crevices of the walls we found cards with names of Sisters, Priests, Brothers and Polish officers who had preceded us, and the forms of death each had undergone. Later in the forests we found other evidences – tombs of martyrs and tombs without crosses or any identification. We began to break branches and twigs thereby erecting crosses, but even this ended with a threat of punishment. Arriving here we lived in hope that the same fate awaited us that had befallen our predecessors. Forced to work in the forest, we saw others forced likewise with the butt of a carbine to work and slave. We recognized these as Polish officers but were unable to speak to them or they would be struck in the back with the carbines or severely kicked. They were treated like animals; hungry and clothed only in their torn uniforms and in their bare feet waded in the deep snow.
Our children were forced to attend Russian schools where Communism was indoctrinated in them. The Reds desired to stamp out Catholicism and the Christian faith out of their hearts by saying there was no God but Stalin. Later, they were taught to say and believe there is not a God, for even though they prayed, believed and hoped for a better tomorrow, it never came. On the other hand, they did not pray to, or ask of, Stalin, yet he supplied them with clothing and food. By removing the trap door in the ceiling of the school, bread and candy was thrown down to them – Stalin was their God; he was taking care of them. If a parent sought to refrain his child from attending the school, he was severely punished with prison or heavy work from which he never again rested save by death itself.
Girls, fifteen and over, were separated from their families and sent into the deep forest where they were forced to do heavy labor. Though barely in their teens, and hardly able to carry the axes, they had to cut down trees. They marched into the threatening forests with axes on their shoulders, and from the rising of the sun, till the setting thereof, they worked tirelessly cutting down the trees and trimming them of the branches. The snow was threateningly deep, and when a girl fell through the snow, another had to pull her out – thus we became the laughing spectacle of the Reds. Nearly all of us have some identification – scars and wounds which will never heal or mend, nor will the pain ever cease.
In the forest, when cold, hunger and nostalgia gripped us, we prayed that God would be merciful and call us to Himself. Although we know that suicide was wrong, many of us placed ourselves in the path of huge trees so that we would be killed, and thus save our virtue and not be violated. The Reds had little respect for us. When we would build a little fire around which we would warm ourselves, the Reds would cut down trees and have them fall into the fire. Horses and sleds were given us to help tow the trees out of the forest. Looking at the poor animals – old, unfed and emaciated – we looked at one another and thought how similar we looked, the only difference being that we were human and could speak – they were animals. Entering the forest and encountering deep snow, the horses often stumbled and fell and although we all contributed what little strength we had, we were able to upright them. Upon leaving the forest, fear and apprehension gripped us, for out on the open plains a pack of wolves awaited us. Perhaps because there were so many of us, we did not become their prey. With the temperature at times 90 degrees below 0, while sitting on the trees, our lips chapped, our ears froze, and we breathed with great difficulty. Our hands and feet were numb and we used to rub the cold snow on ourselves to increase our circulation.
We were forced to work regularly and no excuses were tolerated. Prison was the punishment awaiting one, who could not, or would not, work. Prayer was forbidden. Because of our strict adherence to our Christian Faith, we were persecuted at every turn. One of our hardest and trying times came with the arrival of the most beautiful month of the year – May, Mary’s month. In all the churches throughout Poland, special May devotions had always been conducted, and here unable to hold them publicly, secretly in one of the barracks, the children and elders gathered about a small, improvised altar with a crude imitation statue of the Blessed Mother to pay devotion to her, singing hymns. We beseeched Mary, Queen of Poland, to give us strength and courage to withstand the assaults on our bodies and souls in order that we could attain a better tomorrow. Our devotions were always interrupted by the Russians, who, whenever they heard the hymns, would break into the room, ransack the place, while shouting “there is no God”. Instead of praying, we were advised to enjoy ourselves at dances held in a converted Russian Church. Whenever the Commandant came, no one dared to defend himself – it was useless, for prison was the reward meted out. However, at this point, even prison was welcomed. In the rear of this converted church, some of our men carved statues of Our Blessed Lord and Mary, His Mother. Here we began to gather for prayer, but always in fear of being discovered.
Our work having ended in Siberia, we were again placed in the same cattle cars and shipped elsewhere. This time we were to work in the fields and on farms. We were shipped out to a depot where we waited three weeks for transportation. There was no shelter or covering and we slept in the gutters of the small city streets. The cold, bitter wind whizzed by with grave intensity and the snow blinded us. My dear mother began to fall into unconsciousness. Arriving at the fields and farms, our yoke did not lighten a bit, nor did our lot change. We worked hard and often dogs became our food and nourishment. When people have no real food, they must make their own and various kinds of greens were used to make soup. One has to experience these things to know what we actually endured up until October 18, 1942
On this day, the sun began to pierce the hanging clouds – General Wladyslaw Sikorski remembered and sought by various means to help us. It was he (whose plane had been sabotaged and crashed at Gibraltar in July, 1944) who relieved us of our yoke and the Russian chains under which we slaved for three years. A pact was made between him and Stalin with the sole purpose of freeing the Poles held in Russia, while at the same time forming an army of Poles to fight the Russians for the liberation of our beloved country. Transports were secured to ship out the Poles to friendly and helpful countries.
My father joined the Polish Army, and only because of this were we able to leave this Russian Hell. And yet amidst all this hope and preparation, my beloved mother had only a few days remaining in this vale of tears. Since my brother’s death en route to Siberia, her health failed steadily, and now when freedom was almost in our reach, she died. My other brother an I did what we could to make her last hours comfortable, but God soon liberated her forever.
What was there left for me? – Nothing, absolutely nothing. I begged God for death, but God’s ways are not our ways, nor are His thoughts our thoughts. The police tore me away from my mother and placed me on the transport. Sadness, grief and loneliness gripped me and in this state of mind, I was ready to hurl myself into the sea. However, I was soon reminded of my duty to look after my small sister and brother. Together with my brother, I sought our sister almost fruitlessly, but with God’s help she found us after searching from tent to tent in Persia, where she too had been transported. She looked so strange, so hungry, so emaciated. Her first question was about our mother, but what could I tell this young girl? I seized her by the hands and embraced her dearly.
In Persia, we were under the care of the Polish government. We were here but six months when we were taken to India where there were other refugee camps. My brother left for England and enlisted in the Air Force. My father was still in Russia but was later sent to Italy and fought near Monte Cassino. We lived in India for three years, and at the end of that time, we received a letter from far away America. This letter was like an angel with good tidings that our hardships and sorrow were finally at an end. It seemed like a storm after which appeared a rainbow at the end of which was our freedom – that freedom to live as God wants us to and not as man dictates.
Arriving in America, we were brought to the Archdiocese of Boston where distant relatives took my sister and me into their hearts and home. They secured work for me and sent my sister to school. Today I am happily married with two children, and I have made application to become an American citizen.