Sabina Maria (Kowalska) SKAL
Our Father, Stefan Kowalski, served in the Polish Army during World War I, at the age of 18. He belonged to the 29th Cavalry Regiment in Kalisz.
After the war, the soldiers received military settlements as Poland's gratitude for their heroism. They got settlements in Drohiczyn county, Polesie voivodeship. Construction of farms began in 1922, and was completed in 1924. It was a settlement of veterans and it was called Korsuny, so the address was Kolonia Korsuny, Drohiczyn poviat, Polesie voivodeship. Our settlement was adjacent to Kolonia Woławel, where there was a school from the 5th grade up, a large shop, and an Orthodox. The two settlements were separated by the Royal Canal and there were Ukrainian villages in the vicinity.
My father got married and had three children. My mother died at age 23, and after some time my father remarried and had 5 additional children born in Poland, a daughter born in Siberia and another daughter born in England. There were 10 children, seven are still living, and three have died.
I remember some of the settlers in the Kolonia Korsuny, These are:
My father, Kowalski Stefan,
Our father had 24 hectares of arable land, 15 hectares of meadows, and 8 hectares of fallow land where cows, horses and geese grazed. We had 16 cows, 2 horses, 50 pigs, 500 hens, 500 geese. Eggs from the hens were sold to shops and the money was used to buy what was needed for the farm.
We had a Polish school - 4 classes in a common room. The school had been built by the 29th Uhlan Regiment in Kalisz. We had a church, or rather a chapel, on the estate of Eliza Orzeszkowa, It was 9 kilometers away, and we walked there every Sunday. The parish church was in Popin, where baptisms, weddings, fairs, and funerals took place. It was 17 kilometers from us, so we rode horse-drawn carts to mass on major holidays.
When war broke out, western Poland was occupied by the Germans and eastern Poland by the Soviets.
In 1939, when the Russians invaded, Father served in the police force, and was summoned to the post in Drohiczyn. One day, a beggar woman came to them, and told them to run away because the Ukrainians are going to murder you at night. They immediately left, got into the locomotive that was parked there, and drove east to Kamień Koszerski near the Romanian border. They stopped in the village; the peasants gave them a cart and a horse, and some food. Father came home during the night, and buried his uniform and gun in the garden. The neighbor took the cart and Father took the horse because we had a big farm and we had to sow potatoes. The next morning, he sowed potatoes because we had this one horse because the Polish army had taken the other. Now that he had 2 horses, he sowed the potatoes quickly and lent a horse to Kośmider, who also sowed potatoes. But someone saw that Father had 2 horses, and reported it to the commune. By evening someone came with a letter telling him that he must give them one of the horses.
On 10 February 1940, all the settlers were deported to Siberia. But before we were deported, the Ukrainians robbed and murdered many settlers in Polesie.
At two o'clock in the morning, Ukrainians with Russians came into our home with rifles and bayonets. They let us take what was in the house, but didn't let us go outside. It was extremely cold, and there was heavy frost and snow. Children rode in a sleigh with their mothers and grandmothers, and our horse carried us. The men had to follow the sleigh 17 kilometers to the Drohiczyn station. Cattle cars with small windows, a hole in the middle that served as a toilet, an iron stove for heating, were waiting for us. There were 2 shelves at wither end for sitting or sleeping on. There were nearly 50 people in our wagon, so it was very tight. After loading us in, they sealed the door and, on Monday, the train headed east.
Wagons with settlers from other towns were added on the way. When we passed Moscow, the train stopped and the doors finally opened. They ordered us to get out to relieve ourselves, while hundreds of Russian soldiers guarded us. At the stops, they gave a little coal for the stove, as well as a little water and bread - just enough not to die of hunger.
Finally, the train stopped. We were loaded onto waiting sleighs and we continued into the unknown. When we arrived, there was a clearing in the forest, with 19 barracks. The commander's quarters with a tower, a bakery, a large warehouse, and the famous Russian banya. There was also a large canteen where soups made of cabbage and fish heads were cooked.
The Ciohra River flowed next to the camp. It was where we washed, and the water was used for drinking and cooking. It was a clean, tasty, and good river for everything. Every day, each family member had to bring 20 buckets of water to the canteen. If they did not, they didn't get any food. A branch was placed on the shoulders, with two hooks where buckets were hung, and water was carried like this some 500 meters from the river to the canteen. I was 12 years old, so I was required to work.My younger siblings were at school, while my older brothers and my father worked in the forests, Grandmother worked for a Russian woman, who gave her food which I brought home. It was 20 kilometers away through forests, waist-deep snow and frost. Mother had Elżunia to care for, so she couldn't do anything and she was very weak, so I helped her.
In our barrack a Ukrainian family lived on one side, and we lived on the other. They also came like us, when the Russians took over Ukraine. But they had it worse because they didn't bring them to the barracks but to the forest. They had to cut down trees and build these 19 barracks. They camped out in the snow, so many of them died of hunger and cold, because they came in winter.
Every day, the stove was lit, the wood was chopped, there was bread on the table, and water was boiled for tea. It was all done by the Ukrainian woman who lived with us. She remembered how it had been with them, so she gave us what she could. The village was called Ciohra Station Yemcy, Plesieckyi Raion, Arkhangelskaya Oblast.
Everyone from the age of 12 had to work, Father and my two older brothers worked in the forest because that's all there was - forests around thousands of kilometers. They cut down trees to fuel locomotives. The adults cut down the trees, and the youth cut the bark with cleavers, burned the branches, and arranged chopped wood by meter lengths, ready for export. Everyone had to work to get a plate of soup and 200g of black bread.
But God didn't forget about us - when summer came, whole forests were red with raspberries, strawberries, blueberries, mushrooms and blueberries. We collected and sold them to the cooperative, and the Russians paid us with bread. For a basket of blueberries we got half a loaf of bread. During these months, we were not hungry. We ate bread and blueberries. Mother gave what she had brought from Poland (quilts, napkins, etc.) to the Ukrainians for goat milk for Elżunia.
At the beginning of 1942, an agreement was signed between General Sikorski and Stalin, and we were freed. They provided transport to the station and, when the wagons were ready, we loaded up and set off for Uzbekistan. The men and boys left first, to join the Polish army. The families left later – the women and children. We had nothing to eat during the trip. Everyone had lice. My brother and I would jump off, when the train stopped, and looked for food. Once we even stole a bag of flour.
In Arys, I went hunting with my brother to get something to eat. We saw Polish soldiers on the platform and asked them to give us something to eat. We told them that our train with Poles from Siberia would be here for an hour. They ran somewhere, telling us to wait, and brought us two sacks of biscuits and bread and a bucket of herring. We got to Dzalalabad, where the train stopped for a long time because there was a Polish army camp there. Father and everyone from the Kolonia Korsuny was there. Father came to our wagon, bringing food from the bazaar, and he spoke with Mother. He explained that if he were to go with us, we will all die of hunger. But if he is in the army, he can bring his family to Dzalalabad, Mother could get a job in the laundry and have food for the children. So we went on.
The train stopped at the station in Tashkent. My two brothers and I went to the station and found the Polish army. There, my brothers joined the Cadets, and we parted ways. We went further. The train stopped in a field. I went out and walked day and night, looking for my father. When I found him, my father said he would do everything he could for us. He suggested that we should come to Dzalalabad, and that's what happened. I don't know where my older brothers were by then. They were with the army, and I was with the army with Father, until I found my mother and younger siblings again on the market square in Dzalalabad. I was told that Henia's brother and our Grandmother had died.
Mother already had contact with Father. He told her to come where their 5th Division was in order to get work. She stayed with Śnieżkowa, got a job, and said she had a message from her older brothers. Then, before Easter 1942, the army began to leave for Persia. The civilian population went with them. Ships were waiting in Krasnowodsk, one for the army and one for the civilians. General Beruta Spiechowicz said that I was to go with the army. They put a military coat and hat on me and I marched together with the Women`s Auxiliary.
Father was supposed to go with us. He went to get Mother and did not make it back. The train had already left, so the rest of the family took the second transport. In Pachlewi, they burned all our clothes, cut our hair and bathed us. We were dressed with Red Cross clothes, loaded into buses and driven to Tehran, where there were 4 camps - 2 military and 2 civilian. There I found my older brothers.
From Teheran, the army left for Palestine, Egypt, and eventually Italy. I wanted to go to Palestine because my brothers were there. The commandant told me to volunteer with the Women`s Auxiliary and I could go to Palestine, but she arranged otherwise with the General. The lories were ready, and I said goodbye to the Women`s Auxiliary and I left. They gave me a letter to read during the trip. I found out that I was not going to Palestine but to Isfahan, to a Polish orphanage. They wrote "the army will not do you any good, you are too young, but where you are going there is a good school and you have to study". When they liquidated the place, I was enrolled in an orphanage in South Africa, and did very well there.
I was in touch with Father. My mother was looking for me through the Red Cross to join her because my sister Basia was in a cast, my mother was in the hospital, and my younger siblings couldn't make it on their own. I would have gone but it was too late as I had already left Isfahan for South Africa. I had contact with my family in Masindi, Uganda. When I was registered, they noticed that I was not an orphan. I stated that I had brothers and a father in the army, and a mother and siblings in Uganda. After finishing school, South Africa wanted to keep us forever, but the Polish government-in-exile in London said that the children would not be given away. When the opportunity arose, the army went to the front to Italy and they picked us up on the way. They unloaded us somewhere and I took the train to my family in Masindi. I finished school in Masindi.
Transports were being prepared to leave for England, because Father was in the Polish army under British command and after the war they were guaranteed permanent residence in England together with their families. Transports began to be organized in Holy Week 1946. I came to England by plane. Mother and the rest of the family left by ship in June for St Morgan, Newquay, Cornwall. Father and I were in Penley, Wrexham, Wales. Then Father went to St Morgan and I met my future husband Janek. Father liked him and in November 1948, I got married at the Polish Hospital in Penley. Janek was still in the army at the time. We all saw each other again when, with my husband and pregnant with our first child, we visited the family at the camp, St Morgan.
After a short time, my parents and the whole family, except for two older brothers, left for America. One older brother went to Canada, and the other brother stayed in Cornwall.
Original Polish text by Sabina Maria Skał, 2004