"Poles Apart - Together Again"
by Mike Jodeluk
This is a story of a family caught in the maelstrom of national and world-scale political events over the last two centuries, including those associated with Napoleon Bonaparte, Lenin, Stalin and Hitler.
Many families have been touched by the cataclysmic and traumatic effects of revolutions and wars, whether separation, wounds or death. The current chapter of this family’s story is a very happy one and tells how determined research and good fortune brought together the Scottish branch of the family and other members in five countries in Central and Eastern Europe.
Having been born in Bridge of Allan, Stirlingshire in 1948 of a Scottish mother, Helen Lamb, and a Polish father, Mieczyslaw (Mietek) Jodeluk, I was puzzled by the age of 7 years as to why I had never seen my father. My parents had met in Stirling at the end of the war. My father was demobilized from his Polish unit based at Doune, near Stirling. They married in Stirling and moved to live in Eindhoven, Netherlands, where Mietek worked for Philips, the electrical company. Just prior to my birth my mother returned to Scotland and my father was due to follow later, to work at Philips Hamilton factory.
In August 1948 as the Cold War commenced and the Berlin Blockade was at its height Mietek received a letter from his sister, Leokadia (Lola) Frankowska in Bydgoszcz, Poland, pleading with him to return briefly to Poland. This was to help persuade their mother to move from the eastern third of Poland, as it was in the inter-war years, which by agreement at Yalta was about to be given to the Soviets.
Despite the dangers, Mietek returned to Poland and, according to the Communist Polish authorities, for decades afterwards was “missing presumed dead”.
At this point our story must take a “flash-back” to the beginning of the 19th century when there was no Poland on the map of Europe. Briefly, the history of this ancient European nation state is as follows:
Poland emerged from the mists and legends of earlier centuries with the accession to power of the Piast Dynasty (962-1370 A.D.) Having accepted Christianity in its Latin form in 966 A.D. Poland was troubled by its pagan northern neighbors. These were the Prussians and later the Teutonic Knights whose power was only broken by the combined Poles and Lithuanians at the Battle of Grunwald in 1410 (The Polish equivalent of the Battle of Bannockburn).
The Jagiellon Dynasty (1386-1572), united the Grand Duchy of Lithuania with Poland creating a medieval European superpower stretching from the Black Sea to the Baltic and the Oder River in the west almost to Moscow. This “Golden Age” in the nation’s history extended into the era of elected kings (1574-1795), the greatest of whom were Stefan Batory (1576-1586) and Jan Sobieski, who led the Polish cavalry to besieged Vienna and there defeated the Turks in the great victory of 1683. However, Poland was partitioned by Russia, Prussia and Austria between 1772 and 1795 when it disappeared as a state until on November 11, 1918, the military genius of Marshal Pilsudski restored to Poland her unity and independence.
Thus it was, in 1812, that Napoleon was able to create a short-lived Grand Duchy of Warsaw to persuade the Poles to support him in his ill-fated campaign against Russia. The “Grande Armée” of half a million men advanced boldly towards Moscow, fighting the indecisive Battle of Borodino on 7 September 1812, only to find Moscow deserted and burning. So began the long retreat, which included the disastrous and humiliating action against the Grande Armée at the Berezina Bridge (26-28 November 1812). On reaching the Polish city of Wilno (present day Vilnius, capital of Lithuania) thousands of the survivors of the once Grande Armée trampled each other to death, in temperatures of –28°C, struggling to enter the Medyn Gate into the brief safety of the city, with the Russian advance units close at their rear.
Wilno’s huge monasteries were converted into hospitals, treating everything from frost-bite to typhus. By 12 December the Russians had arrived in force and were throwing the sick and wounded men of Napoleon's former Grande Army Out of 3rd and 4th floor windows to make way for the Russian sick and wounded, despite the appalling filth of these so-called hospitals.
It was in the midst of this chaos and terror that a French Grenadier officer, named Jules de Luk, struggled with frost-bitten feet into the small village of Pustalówki not far from Wilno.
Good fortune smiled on Jules de Luk in his desperate hour of need, as he was taken in and nursed by a lady called Lucja Bilewicz (incidentally, an ancestor of Maria Bilewicz, the wife of Marshal Pilsudski). Lucja not only nursed Jules, she fell in love and later married him, but first, to save his life she arranged for papers to be “purchased” for Jules from the re-established Russian authorities on their return to Wilno. She was able to do this due to her social status within the Polish community in Wilno. The papers were made out under the name of Julius Jodeluk, a more Polish-sounding version of her French husband’s name.
This was the start of the Jodeluk family name.
Poland of an earlier era was a republic of nobles, a democracy of great lords, medium-rich landed gentry and a lower order of gentry, owning little, but equal in status to the richest in the land. They were known as the “szlachta”, often translated as “nobles”, but more accurately “gentry”. They enjoyed the privilege of citizenship of the republic and had a crest or heraldic coat of arms. The Bilewicz, Korzeniewski and Dziatlowski families were all Polish landowners in the Wilno area of 19th century Czarist Russia.
The Korzeniewski coat of arms depicts a Knights Templar cross (denoting membership of that order), a set of scales (denoting membership of the judiciary), and a crescent moon (denoting participation in a victory against the Turks).
It is not known if Jules was involved in the Polish revolt of 1830, but his son Stanislaw and also Tomasz Dziatlowski were involved in the revolt of 1846 and sent to Siberia, as were Antoni Jodeluk and Wincenty Dziatlowski in the revolt of 1863. On both occasions the respective families sold some of their lands to ransom their relatives back from Siberia, thereby cutting their sentences to 5 years or so. This gradually dispersed their estates, leaving them as “gentry” in name only, but with a coat of arms to commemorate their origins.
Our story now moves to 1904/1905 and the Russo-Japanese War in Manchuria (N.E. China). The Japanese had made a surprise attack on Russian warships in Port Arthur which, along with Mukden, fell to the Japanese. The Russian Baltic fleet was sent to recover Imperial Russia’s pride but was soundly defeated at Tsushima Straits. This defeat contributed to the 1905 Russian revolution.
In the midst of this oriental conflict were my paternal grandparents. Adam Jodeluk from Pustalówki, Wilno, a Polish soldier in the Czar’s army, and Izabela Dziatlowska from Dziatlowczizna, a Polish nurse with the Czar’s army. There in Manchuria they met, became engaged, and on return were married in Wilno and set up home in Zelwa, to the south of Wilno. Their children Marja (Maria), Jan, Waclaw and Leokadia (Lola) were born there, but in late 1914 the family were forcibly evacuated by the Russian authorities and moved by train to Tambow, a town about 250 mile: S.E. of Moscow. It was a big railway junction with a large steam locomotive works and here Adam worked as an engineer from 1914 to 1918. In addition to the First World War, the Russian revolution of 1917 took a grip on the country and the White Cossacks then the Red Guards were in Tambow.
In 1918 Marshal Pilsudski set up the Polish Legion to free Poland from foreign domination and Adam made the hard decision to leave his wife and young family in Tambow and join the fight for Polish independence. Pilsudski had already driven the Austrians out of Krakow (the ancient capital) in south Poland and the Prussians out of western Poland. Poland was re-established as a nation state in November l9l8, but Adam Jodeluk fought on to save the new Poland from the Bolsheviks and push them out of central and eastern Poland. This took 4 years (1918-1921), and during this time Adam crossed the lines 4 times to visit his family in Tambow - my father, Mietek, being born in Tambow in December.1921.
In 1921 in Russia, famine, as a result of the civil war, was approaching from the south so it was fortunate that in 1922, under a treaty with the Bolsheviks, all Poles in Russia were to be repatriated to Poland. The family made the long train journey back to eastern Poland, setting up home first in Wilno and later in a small hamlet called Blok near the larger village of Byten, about 120 miles south of Wilno, beside the main Warsaw-Moscow railway line.
Adam became plant engineer at the sawmill at Blok. It was a fairly dense forest area before the Second World War, with Polish nobles (e.g. Count Maurice Potocki) visiting to hunt deer, wild boar, bison and wolves. Marja became the primary school teacher in Blok and married Michal, a hunter and forest guide, Lola took up nursing and moved to Wilno.
On 1st September 1939, Poland was invaded by Germany from the west and on 17th September the Soviet Union invaded the eastern third of the country. Between 1.8 and 2 million Poles, particularly from the upper echelons of Polish society, were taken forcibly from this area until June 1941 when the Nazis attacked Russia. Many of these people, civilians and military, died in remote areas of Siberia and a large number live in Kazakhstan to this day.
Waclaw had joined the Polish Army but was captured by the Russians and was not released when General Anders took what became the Polish 2nd Corps out of Russia via Persia in 1942. He was placed in a Polish unit in the Soviet Army and fought right through to Berlin in May l945, where he was badly wounded. Adam continued to work at the sawmill but aided the Polish partisans based in the forest nearby, until caught and killed by the Nazis in 1943. Blok was razed to the ground as a result. but the rest of the inhabitants escaped to Byten.
Mietek had joined the Polish Air Force and was captured near Wilno by the Russians on 17th September 1939. He was in transit to an internment camp in the Soviet Union when he escaped and returned to his home for a few days.
It was not safe to remain at home and it was known that General Sikorski had asked all able-bodied military personnel to escape to the West to resume the fight against the Nazis. Mietek left Blok and, after many adventures and a few close shaves, he escaped over the Carpathian Mountains to Hungary in December 1939. Here he was again interned until March 1940 when he again escaped and swam through the ice floes across the Drawa River to Slovenia. Rescued by a local farmer, he eventually reached the Polish consulate in Zagreb and was given a rail pass via Trieste, Venice, Milan, and Turin to Modane on the Italian/French border. From here ,on 15 March 1940 he was sent to Coétquidan in central Brittany then, after a few weeks, was sent in the reconnaissance platoon of a Polish brigade to Alsace-Lorraine; to Nancy, then Metz, then Forbach opposite Saarbrücken on the German border. The Germans launched their blitzkrieg on the west and the French and Polish divisions held the line as long as possible, then withdrew to the Moselle River.
France capitulated but the Polish units held the line to allow the French to get away. At this time Mietek was responsible for blowing up two German tanks on a Moselle bridge and was awarded the French Croix de Guerre. Having withdrawn as far as St. Dié, the Polish units were disbanded and the troops told to make for England or Switzerland. Mietek continued south to Belfort with 7or 8 others, but was captured and marched all the way to a P.O.W. camp near Baden-Baden in southern Germany
After 2 or 3 days he escaped and walked by night, south towards Switzerland. He swam across the Rhine River near Basle and was shocked to find that the first person he found spoke German. Not initially realising that the northern Swiss spoke German he was glad to find himself in Switzerland. His pleasure was short-lived as the Swiss farmer turned him over to the authorities. He was interned for 4 years at Rorbach, Wetzikon, Winterthur, where he studied engineering, and at Le Locle in Neuchatel canton. In addition to his studies he, along with thousands of other interned Poles, did farm work, road mending and laying mines and wire on the border.
The Swiss feared the Nazis would attack and kept the Poles, as they knew they would fight if the need arose. However, from June 1944, following the Normandy landings, the Poles were itching to join in the fight for freedom. Mietek escaped with others across the Le Doubs River, knowing the way through the mines and wire he had laid himself. He joined a Polish company of 150 men in the French Resistance in the Jura Mountains. At Bescançon they fought to free captured French partisans and also shot up German transports north of Bescançon, which were fleeing from the advancing U.S. Army which arrived 2or 3 days later from the south.
The Polish troops were sent south to Sorgues, near Avignon, were demobilised from the Polish Army under French command and immediately re-enlisted in the Polish Army under British command. They were sent to Brésères Barracks, Paris and in September 1944, posted to the 1st Polish Armoured Division under General Maczek.
Mietek joined No.11 Sapper (engineer) Company with the 3rd Rifle Brigade. The Poles liberated many towns and villages, in particular the town of Breda, in the Netherlands, and Mietek was involved in building a “Bailey Bridge”, which was nicknamed “Wilno”, over the Wilhelmina Canal. On the night of 4/5 November 1944 at Möderdijk, he was involved in the assault over the Hollandische Diep channel. They were in assault boats, against which the Germans used flares, mortars, and artillery. Mietek was blown out of the boat, injured and concussed. He woke up in a Polish military hospital at Taymouth Castle in Perthshire, and convalesced there from November 1944 to January l945.
On recovery he was posted to No. 7 Sapper Company in the 4th Polish Division at Blairgowrie, Perthshire which was preparing for service, if required, in north Germany. However, the war ended and he was sent to the Polish Officer Cadet School at Irvine in Ayrshire until September 1945, followed by mine clearing round the Royal Naval Base at Scapa Flow in Orkney during October and Novernber1945. In January 1946 the Company was moved to Inverardoch House at Doune near Stirling and, while there, he met my mother, Helen Lamb.
This takes our story to the point where it started. On 2nd September 1948 Mietek entered Poland and had his passport, papers and money taken from him, and was sent to his sister Lola, at Bydgoszcz, in western Poland. Mietek had to report to a police station every day for a year and was eventually allowed to work at his profession as a civil and construction engineer as the Communists required his engineering skills. Despite the restrictions on him, he was fortunate in having these skills as many Polish officers returning from the West after the war were sent to the gulags or simply disappeared, and many enlisted men were sent to the coal or uranium mines.
Mietek and Helen’s letters to one another were stopped and, after some time, he was told that my mother had divorced him, remarried, and gone with me to Canada. There was a grain of truth in this as my mother did have Canadian friends at that time but, due to the lack of communication and being virtually a working prisoner, Mietek had to accept the situation. After a year he had his mother moved out of the Soviet Republic of Belorussia (former eastern Poland) and he continued to work on engineering projects all over Poland and later, in Libya and Germany before he retired in the 1980’s. In September 1994, I discovered that my father’s army record still existed and obtained a copy.
Much of his war story was there, but standing out to me was the place of his origin, Blok-Byten on the River Szczara. Being a geography teacher I quickly identified the location on a map and at Easter 1995 set out for Byten in the quest for my father and his family. I was prepared for the possibility that he was no longer alive and that I would find nothing. On my journey I was involved in some interesting travel situations regarding the non-issue of native persons’ rail tickets to foreign tourists in a former non-tourist area (some changes come slowly to the former Soviet republics).
On arrival in Byten I felt close to my family but apprehensive at what I might find. However, I set about asking round the village for any information about my family and soon discovered that the people there knew of the Jodeluk family, had a high regard for my grandfather, but thought they had moved west to Poland after the war. At the third house I found a couple who told me that my Aunt Marja had lived in the village for many years, but had died in January - I had missed meeting her by only 3 months! However, my disappointment was short-lived as they told me that her son, my cousin, Andrzej, was still living in her house. (It was among the first I had photographed on entering the village!).
Andrzej welcomed me and I immediately realised that he knew who I was, as my mother had sent a photograph of me to our mutual grandmother just before foreign mail was restricted. They had been waiting ever since for me to arrive from the West! In our conversation, Andrzej mentioned my father and I discovered that he had last seen him at his sister, Dana’s, in Vilnius two years before. Mietek, my father, was alive and living in Tarnobrzeg, in south eastern Poland!
I travelled on to Minsk, the capital of the now independent republic of Belarus, to meet my cousins: lza, an assistant professor at Minsk University and a dramatic arts critic, and Dana (Danuta), a teacher of English in Vilnius. I spoke to my father that night on the telephone for the first time in my life - about 90 seconds conversation was as much as we could stand - it was such a momentous event for both of us! Sadly, due to pre-dated tickets, I had to return to Scotland without first meeting my father, but I flew out to Gdansk to meet him and my Aunt Lola and cousins who live in Gdynia the following July. He was still a strong and healthy 76 year old but died aged 80, in January 2002. The family is now together again and we all keep in touch and visit each other regularly. The expenses have risen enormously but that is nothing compared to the joy of finding half of one’s family after all these years.