Stanislaw KOWALSKI

OF THE BELOVED VILLAGE OF MY FAMILY, ONLY TEARS AND MEMORIES REMAIN

 

These recollections are in tribute to all past residents of the former Polish borderland village of Hucisko Pieniackie, especially for those in eternal sleep in this ground, which was so loved by them.


About twenty kilometers south-west of the county town of Brody, in the former Tarnopol region, between Pieniaki and Huta Pieniacka, the Polish village Hucisko Pieniackie existed until February 1944, surrounded by forests abundant in forest berries and mushrooms.


According to the third part of Gregory P. T. Rąkowski 's Guide to Western Ukraine, titled “Ziemia Lwowska”, the village was one of four inhabited before 1939 almost totally by Poles. They were all established in the nineteenth century, founded by Polish settlers brought to the area by the landholders at Pieniaki to work in the forests. The names of families who lived there also show that this was a Polish village: Bilewicz, Górski, Jarosz, Kobylański, Kowalewski, Kowalski, Legeżyński, Mendelski, Niedźwiecki, Orłowski, Podgórski, Żuczkowski.


Relationships between families in the village were harmonious as most marriages were between local people, although there were also some of mixed ethnicity. There were a few Ukrainian women married to Poles, but almost all of them were integrated into the community to the extent that they were indistinguishable from their Polish neighbours. Although the youth received a patriotic Polish education, no one felt resentment against anyone else on the basis of nationality. Everyone probably also participated in religious ceremonies in the Roman Catholic parish church in Pieniaki. They were also baptized and married there. Excuse me if I'm incorrect – it has been many years since that distant time, and it is not easy to verify the accuracy of my memories.

Years ago, I made a sketch of the village from memory. I counted 53 houses with 350 inhabitants. These numbers were calculated with the help of my younger sister who was then still alive. I’m using the notes from that period, because I realize that it is now more difficult for me to remember details. To justify any inaccuracies, I should mention that my last time to farewell my homeland was at the age of 19 on 22nd March, 1942. I was deported on that date in the first group taken as forced labour for slave labour in the Third Reich, specifically to Upper Lusatia.
I'm going back to the "mine of knowledge" of my own memory and at the same time longing for my childhood and early youth.


My first two years of school were in Pieniaki because the school in our village was founded probably only in 1932.
I do not remember when Hucisko Pieniackie became part of the new administrative unit: the independent municipality cluster collective of Pieniaki. Before then, it was a hamlet of the municipality of Huta Pieniacka. The Post Office and the Police Station were in Pieniaki. The distance from our village to Pieniaki was approximately the same as in the opposite direction through the forest to Huta Pieniacka.


About ten kilometers north-east of Pieniaki is the town of Podkamień, the location of the famous Dominican Monastery, where pilgrims traveled to honour the Holy Virgin Mary and especially on the feast of Our Lady of the Assumption on 15th August.


A little further in the opposite direction was Podhorce with the famous Sobieski castle. Further in the same direction in Olesko, is a major tourist attraction, the castle which was the birthplace of King Jan III Sobieski. South of Huta Pieniacka, about five kilometres from the village of Hucisko Pienieckie is Werchobuż and the source of the river Bug.
The view in all directions from Hucisko Pieniackie featured then, but sadly no longer, the Polish colours of red and white.


I return to the memories of my Poland, because it is there, in this charming Kresy village, that my sense of Polish identity was developed. Our Polish school strengthened the patriotic values developed in our family homes. The Shooting Association and its first Commander, awarded the Cross of Virtuti Militari, prepared young people who had left school for service of their homeland. The Parish Church in Pieniaki provided religious education for the whole community. Every year on the first Sunday after 3rd May, we celebrated the feast with great solemnity in Pieniaki, with the largest group attending being the residents of Huta Pieniacka, and an orchestra of 22 Lancers, who were stationed in Brody.


The annual indulgence in the Parish Church at Pieniaki was celebrated on 29th June, the feast of the Apostles, Saints Peter and Paul. The sides of the road to the church were lined with stalls selling various trinkets. What a joy it was, especially for rural youth, to have a good look at these wonders once a year, and to be able to purchase a tube of ice cream for only ten or even five groszy.


Memories remain while the exiled heart feels sadness, longing and regret "To those forest hills, to the green meadows ...... ".  Do these meadows still exist?


On the western edge of the village, was a source of drinking water, rich in minerals, used by all residents. Over the entire length of the village towards the east from the same source, there was a flowing stream suitable for washing, soaking flax and hemp, feeding and watering livestock, watering plants in most cases, and for use on the fields. According to information from the earlier mentioned guidebook, “Ziemia Lwowska”: "The location has not been revived and its area is now covered with forest".

The stream referred to above flowed for about twenty meters from the edge of the location of our garden at that time. A path through our neighbours’ narrow meadow led to a deeper well of water, used for kitchen needs and for the forest, which was reached by climbing up from the stream.

  
I wonder, of course, whether the trees have now taken over the meadow and our garden. I remember that the forest near us was covered in hornbeams and beeches. Popping up here and there were individual specimens of a different kind e.g. a lonely larch growing on the edge of the forest, or the handsome forest nut tree amongst the lower growing nut bearing shrubs.


Our village was famous for a cottage industry producing hand carved wooden spoons. A few years before the war the Patronat Przemysłu Ludowego, an organisation supporting local industry, with its representative living permanently in the village, expanded the range of items being made after undertaking quality checks, installing the first two wood-turning workshops, and obtaining the services of two folk woodcarvers to carve birds like magpies, storks and roosters from linden wood.


While on the subject of woodcraft, one of the residents of our villagers completed a course in the production of skis from timber from the ash tree, and as far as I recall, won first prize for the best skis made by all course participants.
As well as skilled timber workers, the village had craftsmen from a range of other fields including a blacksmith, carpenter, tailor, bricklayers, carpenters, etc.


A few years before the war, one of the householders started the production of bricks in his own brickyard.
With so many skilled tradespeople in the village, it was rarely necessary to seek them from outside our local area, and these people were hired to work even in distant locations.


I have already mentioned that the first group of forced labourers was deported to Germany in March 1942. I think that it was in August, or within only a couple of months, that the same fate befell the next group - and among them my younger sister, another person from our family. This was a blessing in disguise, for only the two of us survived the war.


I already knew from the letters I was exchanging with my parents that things were not as they should have been in the Kresy. Two years after leaving the family nest, I was overcome by a message about the Holocaust of Huta Pieniacka and the martyrdom of around 1,200 people who died there, among them my whole family. I return again to quote from the guide, “Ziemia Lwowska” that there were 128 people

from Hucisko Pieniackie murdered on February 28, 1944. A number of years ago, I counted 125 - therefore very similar numbers. I wonder what happened to the rest of the residents of our village. Several young men serving in the army were captured by the Germans in 1939, and at least two of them later became soldiers of the Second Corps. I met several people from the village after the war, in various circumstances, in the Recovered Territories. I do not know the exact number deported to forced labour in Germany. However, I do know that some of them did not survive the war or died shortly afterwards. I also met a few in the Recovered Territories who had managed to survive the tragedy at Huta Pieniacka where they sought refuge.


I do not know whether there are any people from Hucisko Pieniackie in Australia, but there are family members of the next generation – my children and my dearly departed sister’s children.


My regards to all the former residents of Hucisko Pieniackie and of Huta Pieniacka touched in any way by these recollections.