FRANCISZKA DOBROWOLSKA - Part 2
(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 erupted.
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 anymore. 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 glanced over.
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 do this.
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 every day 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 him.
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 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 staying 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 hall.
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 it.
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 circumstances were.
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 help.
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 people.
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 we should 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.