Sister Maria Teresa
Excerpts of her story, courtesy of Sister Alice
When I look back at my own personal history it seems to me that I came into this world on February 10, 1940 even though this is not the actual date of my birth. I was nine years old on that memorable day.
What would cause me to think this way? In some way it seems as if the events that preceded this date were much less important, in fact, simply insignificant. Those idyllic, carefree childhood days are etched in my memory. Then I was as content as a child could be. Our family home provided all four of us children - Janina, Edward, Monika and me - with everything necessary for our happiness. I was born and lived in Jezupol, in the district of Stanislawow until this memorable date of February 10, 1940. My parents owned a home and property and lovingly provided for our well-being.
One of our joyful childhood experiences was vacation time spent at Pawlikowka, our grandmother's estate. Oh those were the days! We ran through the enchanting forest and roamed through the harvested fields picking poppies and cornflowers. The Huculi, regional inhabitants of the Carpathian mountains, worked the land. The men wore long embroidered shirts and the women had colorful kerchiefs on their heads and many strings of tiny beads around their necks. How I dreamed of those beads! Occasionally, I accompanied my aunt as she took the afternoon snack to the harvesters. They would spot us from afar and taking off their caps would call: "Slava Bohu!" (Praise God), to which we would call in reply: "Slava!"
The year 1939 was different. There was no vacation at Pawlikowka ... something threatening hung in the air. The older folk whispered secretly among themselves. A few words or a sentence fragment would reach my ears and I heard the word "Hitler" frequently repeated. I reasoned that the talk must be about some horrible bandit similar to those found in fairy tales.
People spoke of "mobilization" and of "the occupation" of Czechoslovakia. This information was carefully screened from our ears by our parents who were shielding us from the approaching horrors. However, I do remember clearly that in August of that year my father was called to service in the army. Tearfully, he bade us good-bye and assured us that he would return soon. It was still vacation time. Then one evening he appeared unexpectedly. He spoke with Mother for a long time. I was able to hear only isolated words, but I had an eerie feeling that something was dreadfully wrong. Daddy did not bid us good-bye this time. During the night before leaving, he only traced a cross on our foreheads while we were already asleep. An
ominous silence descended on us.
Gradually we learned more and more about the war which was coming ever nearer ... we learned how to protect ourselves and how to guard against it. September 1, 1939, marked the beginning of the conflict. Bombs fell from the sky. The whiz of bullets, fire and smoke were everywhere!! Dogs howled persistently. Radios blared the message: "We will not surrender! We will fight to the very last drop of blood!" After several days a hush descended on the land, even the radio was stilled. From time to time dismal and frightening news reached us: "Warsaw surrendered! The Germans are occupying the cities! People are in headlong flight!" After capitulation, many soldiers returned from the front while others, attempting to reach the Rumanian border, came to us asking for civilian clothing to avoid detection and capture by the
Our father did not return. Every bark of the dog, every footstep, every knock alerted us - "Maybe it's Daddy coming home!" He did not return. It was rumored that he was wounded, that he had been seen in the field hospital. People even whispered to Mother that possibly Daddy was no longer alive. Nobody was able to tell us what actually happened to him. Expecting
the worst, Mother wept quietly when no one was around to see her grief. Life became one prolonged waiting - a true advent. Every meal was prepared with thoughts of Daddy. He might return and of course, he would be hungry. He did not return.
On September 19, a great commotion arose among the people of Jezupol. The Red army had been spotted coming from the direction of Lwow and the Ukrainians were joining them" Together they occupied the cities, arrested many people, settled themselves in government offices and took over other public buildings. Nobody understood the meaning of this. For the time being they did not harm civilians. I believe school was open but I don't remember attending classes even for one day. I do remember, however, that my sister Janina had gone to Stanislaw6w to a boarding school where the secondary school was in session. Only Mama, my
brother Edward and I remained at home. Our youngest sister Monika was convalescing at our aunt's home.
Grandpa, our Daddy's father, lived with us at that time. He was a man of great faith and piety and God was the center of his life. This holy old man was partially paralyzed and was confined to bed where he lay with a large rosary in his hand. He prayed incessantly, his moving lips an
eloquent testimony to his devotion.
I remember a small shrine on our property. It was a cross made of plaster part of which was encased in glass with an inscription underneath it. Grandpa and our parents approached this cross with great reverence. They told us that on that spot was buried an unknown soldier who died defending Poland. We prayed for the repose of his soul and this impressed us children greatly. We gathered flowers and took them to "our soldier". This grave of an unknown soldier located on our grounds had great significance for all of us. We learned later that after being freed from German captivity, our father obtained a special pass to visit the occupied territories. He knew nothing about the family. When he arrived at the place where we lived, he found nothing there except the cross. He told us later that he cried for several hours and prayed at this spot which had been so meaningful to all of us. Believing that none of his family had survived Daddy confided the painful mystery of his tragedy to the cross that had witnessed and
symbolized our family history. Someday I would like to return to our beloved land to see if the cross is still there, for it speaks of the beliefs of people who were so treacherously driven from their homes.
in endless waiting for our father and nothing could make us happy. For some reason the windows were heavily draped to keep indoor light from shining through. Whom did we fear? I did not know. The days continued dismal and grim. We constantly heard about murders, burglaries and attacks. We didn't know who committed those murders. We knew we had lost the war and had to reconcile ourselves to this loss. But, what was this other "war", why was it
going on? What was it about? As children we did not understand what was happening.
That year the winter had been most severe. Snow covered the roads and the houses. Except for urgent needs, everyone remained inside their homes. A freight train on a side track at the station aroused speculation and instilled a strange foreboding feeling. Though it was a freight train it had boards across the length of the car. There were also two large holes in the floor of the car. The people working at the station were especially worried and wondered why this freight train was standing there. Yet, no one was able to foresee what its destination might be.
A four o'clock in the morning, February 10, 1.940, We were awakened by the fierce.barking of the dogs, by people calling to eacir other and by the clatter of boots on the frozen ground' Coming from the courtyard we could distinctly hear orders being given in Russian. Atwari! openup! These commands were accompanied by repeated, violent pounding on the door. Terrified we lept out of bed. Mother went to the door.The voices from the outside were becoming louder and clearer: "open up. If you don't, we will break down the door." Since Mother knew Russian, she explained that she was alone with the children and added that at this hour she would not open the door for anyone. The threatening voices intensified, however, and the banging on the door with rifle butts began. The door had to be opened. Armed soldiers rushed into the house, accompanied by some civilians, Ukrainians with blue and yellow bands on their sleeves. The leader of the NKVD holding a revolver stood beside Mother and forbade her to move. The others dispersed throughout the house searching everywhere: in cupboards, in drawers, in clothes pockets, in jewelry boxes.
My brother and l were terrified and though not completly dresssed we ran out into the courtyard where our dog, Budrys, was howling dreadfully. We felt that something unusual was happening to us. My brother sensed that we would probably be forced to leave our home and so we ran to the stables to pet the animals, especially our horses. The dogs continued howling. Acting on intuition, or perhaps remembering some stories that Daddy used to tell us, we kissed the walls of our house. Then Edward said: "Salute! Let's sing "Jeszcze Polska nie Zginela" (Poland has not yet perished). I told him I had cap to touch in salute and besides I was a girl. But he would not give in and said, "Salute, I tell you!" Surrounded by howlng dogs we stood at attention and sang our patriotic duet: "Poland has not yet perished."
Meanwhile, although Mother was guarded by a soldier and forbidden to move, she called to us through the open door of the house to come inside quickly becaUse it was extremely cold. Furthermore, we needed to pack our things hurriedly. "But where are we going?" we asked. There was no answer from her. So, following Mother's instructions we began, without much thought, to throw some things into suitcases. Mother advised us to take winter clothes. After she was permitted to move, she put a few pieces of jewelry into a bag and took some food, although she had been assured by the guard that she would need nothing. Mother was told
that where she was going there was "wsioho mnoho" (enough of everything). The most dramatic moment came when we had to say goodbye to Grandpu. He was not permitted to go
with us because, as the soldiers put it, "staryk" (the old man) was incapable of doing anything so there was no need to take huim. We approached his bed. As usual, Grandpa was holding his large rosary and praying. His face was serene and he was smiling. Though he was aware of the situation, he did not complain. As we kissed his hand, Grandpa said, "My children, remember to
love God. Be faithful to prayer. Love your country. God will always bless you." After that he traced the sign of the cross over us and kissed our foreheads. Tears streamed down our faces as we stammered with choked voices: "Goodbye", Grandpa, goodbye!" We never saw him again. He remained alone with his ever-present rosary. I do not know what happened to him, but am convinced that while we traveled the Calvary path into exile, our Grandpa prayed for us constantly. It may well be, I am sure, that his prayers obtained for us the final liberation from that inhuman exile.
We were ordered to follow the soldiers. A truck stood outside. Our skimpy luggage had been thrown in and we were seated on top of the bags. In our presence the house was boarded up and some sign was attached to it. The dogs kept on howling! Crying and shivering from cold we snuggled up to each other as we thought about Grandpa and the home that was no longer ours.
Soon we arrived at the station. Along the way we saw other people who had to leave everything in the same manner as we. Before we left home Mother had asked about the fate of her two absent daughters. The NKVD officer promised to bring them to the station. To everyone's consternation we were being loaded onto the mysterious, ill-fated freight train which had been
standing on the side track for so long. At that time I did not fully understand what was happening nor what tragedy had befallen us. People were weeping and caliing to each other but above all, we heard the infants crying. It was frightfully cold. Under the surveillance of tne NKVD everything was done quickly. Those who were not being deported were not permitted near the train. As I recall, the train remained on the track that entire day and the next one as well. Around noon Monika appeared followed by Janina. In the confusion of the moment, Janina who was accompanied by our aunt and a guard, could have avoided deportation by escaping, but when Mother asked if she wanted to remain, she absolutely refused to leave and chose to come with us.
On Sunday morning people returning from church approached the train. Through the small barred windows we could hear them calling to us: "Go with God! Courage! The priest prayed for you! May the Blessed Mother protect you! We are with you! The priest is sending his blessing for the journey." The train started in the afternoon. It was a truly tragic moment. The people sobbed and fell into each othir's anns, pleading desperately: "Help us, O God! Queen of Poland ride with us! Where are we going? Where, oh where? When will we return?" The sobbing mingled with the whimpering of children and the loud praylng of the others. I recall that a terrible fear seized me then. I began to cry uncontrollably. The familiar landscape of our native land barely visible through the narrow barred window was rapidly disappearing from view. From time to time, someone watching the road would call out: "We are passing Lwow now, Kijow, etc..." As for me, the vivid image of Grandpa, prayerfully blessing us, was constantly before
me. I regretted having left without saying anything more to him. Even now I wonder: Did anyone take care of him or did he die of cold and hunger?
The train was packed with prisoners who crowded together on the planks as it raced toward Russia. People spoke very little. At times, only a desperate sob was heaid. No one knew where we were being taken. Once daily, the barred doors were opened with a screeching sound and the military guards placed some gruel or soup in the center of the floor. This was our only meal of the day. The infants fared the worst of all since there was nothing for them to drink. Nor was
there any place or means to wash a baby's diapers. There was a rather large hole in the center of the floor for orrr sanitary needs. Through it we could see the ground as it vanished beneath the wheels of the train.
This macabre journey lasted twenty days. It is difficult to imagine what was going on in the peoples' hearts. There were times when black despair gripped the soul. Being only a child, I was unable to fully realize the seriousness of our plight. In these inhuman conditions we were on a journey to an unknown destination. What would become of us? Would we return? I know that I asked myself these same questions repeatedly in my heart. I cried often, especially when I
my sick, feverish brother begging Mother for some tea, an unattainable luxury.
I remember the moment we crossed the Polish-Russian border. The people who kept watch at the tiny window recognized that we were leaving Poland and shared with us this terrible news. A cry of despair and hopelessness rose from tear-choked voices and: "Jesus, we are going to Siberia!" was heard throughout the car. A great sadness fitted my heart. It seemed to me that
something had come to an end and would never return. I felt that a strange fate was awaiting me! The train stopped frequently because of the gigantic snow drifts. Then the men were ordered to remove the snow. At times the shoveling of the snow lasted for hours. Often during our extended stops in the open fields we were not given any food. I recall that children were lifted to the window so they could scoop up some snow that had to substitute for food and drink. It was very cold in the freight car. Without covers and shivering from cold we settled down to sleep. Because so many were crowded on the boards that served as beds, we propped our heads against the metal wall of the car. In the morning, it was often necessary to tear our hair away from the metal wall, for during the night it would freeze to the wall. This proved to be a painfully unpleasant experience.
After the long, nightmarish journey, which left behind a trail of "open" graves (the deceased were simply thrown into the snow), the train stopped at a station. We were already far from the Polish frontier. We were ordered to leave the cars and walk over to a large hall. Tired, hungry and frozen, we settled with our baggage on the floor and fell asleep from sheer exhaustion. In the middle of the night a raging fire broke out in the building. Awakened from deep sleep the people screamed, rushing to doors and windows. The grownups threw the children into the snow. Miraculously we survived. The local inhabitants told us that the place had once been an Orthodox church. It was constantly ravaged by fires which nobody could explain.
Following that tragic night we were once again taken in primitive freight cars to a new unknown
destination which turned out to be the town of Dzytygara in the Kustanai District of Kasakchstan. We were assigned a specific spot on the floor of a huge hall on which to live, one family beside another. There was a daily roll call. The NKVD officer had a complete list of the deported persons and each exile was clearly identified. The day after our arrival the grownups
received orders to report to work, while the children were to be enrolled in school. I did not attend school there at all. It was well known that only Marxism was taught in the schools.
Therefore, the parents leaving for work instructed their children to escape in the direction of the steppes when they spotted anyone coming to enroll them in class. We did exactly as we were told. How we succeeded to escape is beyond my understanding!
Dzyfigara was a gold-mining town in the Ural Mountains. Men (and some women) went down into the pits and most of the women worked above ground, pushing the wagons loaded with ore to designated locations. The work was strenuous, especially since the temperature at times fell to -40 degrees Centigrade. Our mother was assigned to this work. She returned home in the evening totally exhausted and frozen. Since everyone was obliged to reach a certain so called "quota", she worked under great pressure. Mother earned very little, not even enough to buy bread. Physically drained, Mother fell ill with typhoid fever and was taken to the hospital for
communicable diseases. The hospital was very far from where we were stationed. I recall how the roll call of all prisoners was carefully taken; all the sick were always accounted for.
We were not permitted radios or any other such equipment. I recall that a certain young Pole was caught listening to a radio broadcast and sent to prison. Mother who knew Russian well interceded on his behalf. The officer took her aside and warned her not to intervene in such cases or something worse could befall her. At one time the four of us set out to visit Mother
at the hospital. We arrived there dead tired because of the distance. Since this was a hospital set aside for infectious diseases, we were not permitted to enter. They did allow us to look at Mother through a wfndow. Her head was shaved and she looked dreadful! She tried to tell us something and finally we understood that she was pleading for some milk. On our return we
began searching for milk everywhere. We went from house to house begging the people to give us at least a glass of milk in exchange for some work. We were willing to carry water, clean the house, watch the childrln, anything. No one was willing to share with us any of this rarity. Finally a Russian woman moved by our tears took pity on us and gave us a glass of milk. We carried this precious treasure in a can to the hospital. When we got there we found that Mother was unconscious and did not even look in our direction. In tears we returned home drinking the milk on the way back.
Since we had no means of livelihood we went mushroom picking on the distant steppes. It was a dangerous thing to do for we could have easily gotten lost in the tall grass. There were also snakes and the danger of being bitten was ever present. However, hunger forced us to take risks. Once Monika and I gathired up courage to sell the mushroorns that we picked in order to buy some bread and were terribly humiliated when an angry Russian housewife, who
bought them, found a wonn in one of the mushrooms! We cried from fear and shame and thus ended our resourceful venture.
On the steppes we also picked the so-called "kiziaki" sun-dried animal dung which could be used as valuable fuel for winter. Adding to this some thorny branches, dried grass and sticks we could build a fire sufficient for cooking what little we had. We were experiencing some very difficult times, so much so that Janina and Edward, who were too young to go to work, added on a few years to their age and went to earn some money. Janina went into the service of a family and Edward transported clay in a so-called "kalamaszka", a small open wagon. He was given a wild, unbridled horse that kicked, jerked and was difficult to control. He could not manage the animal very well and it is quite possible that to this day he has the scars from the rope which cut deeply into his palms. He used to run to work very early. At noon we would bring him our only meal which was salted water with some bread. Prodding waste-deep through the snow in borrowed boots I carried this "soup" in a small borrowed pot wrapped in rags to keep it warm for the starving boy. He was always waiting for me and was so happy
when he spotted me from afar. Sometimes I would slip and fall with the pot of soup. Then I would carefully pick up the pieces of bread and return them to the pot. Crying bitterly, I would apologize to Edward but he was never angry. Edward dreamed of a reasonable wage and worked hurriedly at his task of filling and emptying the cart always trying to reach the designated quota. The pay at the end of the month depended on the number of wagons filled and emptied. He worked fast with a twinkle in his eyes at the thought of the pay he would receive and the things he would be able to buy. Such wonderful things: slippers for our sick Mother, candy to put into our mouths while drinking "kipiatok" (boiling water) - something practiced by the rich! We could get a whole portion of bread and even "walonki" (boots) for the whole family. So on payday I ran directly to him to share his happiness as soon as possible. Then, of course, we planned to go to the store. Upon my arrival I found Edward curled up and crying. I thought, he is ill. When I asked about the reason for his tears, he told me that he did not get the expected "adult wage"; in fact, he was given just a pittance. As a result, we were not
able to buy anything. I cannot express the effectt this injustice had on me. I wept with him and voiced my protest. We were so terribly disillusioned that we were ashamed to return home. Everyone would be disappointed. I will never forget that episode. Edward had been told by the
employer that since he was only a child, he had no right to adult wages. So why was he hired and given strenuous adult work?
The Christmas Eve of 1940, brings back exceptionally painful memories. On that day, always associaied with a festive, religious mood, we were forced to move to another barrack located quite a distance from town. That day the temperature was forty below zero. Plowing through mounds of snow we carried our bundles to the assigned place. Janina wore sandals which Edward had made from some old rubber he had found and from Daddy's trouser belt. The shoes she had been wearing since leaving Poland were torn to shreds. The snow was so deep it covered the mud huts and we were walking on the rooftops of these hovels since the outline of the houses was obliterated by the snow. It is hard to imagine that Christmas Eve. We sang carols as we cried over our sad lot. Perhaps we had never understood the birth of Jesus in the stable of Bethlehem as thoroughly as realistically as at that time. This realization consoled us
in our tragic situation, in our exiled existence, driven as we were out of our beloved native land.
I also remember the extremely sad funeral processions. First, my aunt, a comparatively young
woman died, then my uncle. They were buried on the steppes in ditches dug by friends. The bodies were wrapped in sorne ragged clothing and laid to eternal rest. There was no priest and no crucifix. We made a small cross of sticks and placed some small stones on the graves for there was nothing else on the barren steppes. After these two funerals during which we prayed fervently for the souls of the departed I returned home in tears, weeping inconsolably. I was told that for a long time I cried even in my sleep. It was not possible to visit the graves. At night the howling hyenas and jackals dug up the bodies and tore them to pieces!
After spending more than 18 months in Dzytygara, we were told that we would be going south (Uzbekistan) but had to pay our own way. Though Mother returned from the hospital and had been working, it was impossible for us to pay for such a journey. Families of our acquaintances that include men and older boys had already left for their destination. No one was willing to lend Mother any money because everyone knew that she would not be able to repay the loan. So we remained alone. Fortunately, I found work as a babysitter and did domestic services for a Russian family. I also cleaned house to earn some money for the journey. After some time, with enonnous sacrifices on our part, we were able to pay for the transport vehicle and left for
our destination. To our amazement at the first station we met the people who left before us. We learned that the train passed this way only once every two months. It was a comfort to be with these people again!
One night, while we were all asleep on our bundles at the station, the sound of a locomotive whistle was heard from afar. Awakened, everyone eagerly jumped up. The train pulled into the station. The scene was beyond description! Screaming and pushing to reach the doors and windows, people scrambled to get inside the train! There was a fierce battle for a space in the car! I do not know how long this pandemonium lasted, but I do recall that we were left at the station - alone! Mother could not stand it any longer. Deeply hurt by what had happened, she began to sob bitterly and we joined her.
I vividly remember that tragic moment. In mute consternation we asked ourselves: "What will be next?" Fortunately, a Russian railway worker took pity on us. He promised Mother that he would take care of us and share the bread delivered to him at his little station. We remained at the station for a long time. No train passed by. Completely isolated from the world we kept waiting for something, always hoping it would be the train. Yet, it did not come! Our guardian was very kind to us. He shared with us the meal he received once a day. In fact he did everything he could to comfort us.
One day in broad daylight while we were playing on the tracks we heard the whistle of a locomotive. Our astonished guardian ran for his green flag and waited. The unscheduled train pulled into the station. We looked at it as if it were a mirage, an apparition. We heard voices from inside the cars calling to us. In a flash we recognized that they were Poles. From our
deplorable appearance they concluded that we were deportees and encouraged us to climb onto the train. With lightning speed we loaded our miserable baggage into the train just before it started moving. We soon learned that we were with Polish soldiers for this was the beginning of mobilization of General Anders' army.
We had no idea about any new developments. We were thrilled! Divine Providence had not abandoned us. The soldiers gave us some of their crackers and canned food. And so, we reached our destination, the place where the families who left us behind were to have been. To our astonishment they were not there! A great number of other people were spread out on the grass awaiting transportation. No one had heard about our acquaintances. Until this day, no one probably knows whit happened to that train. At least, we never found out about its fate.
As far as I can recall the town where we found ourselves was called Farab. It was a port on the Amu-Daria River. Here we were herded onto cattle barges and set afloat on the river to an unknown destination. The conditions were inhuman! Hunger, stench, lice, disease, lack of sanitation facilities and dreadful hopelessness accompanied us. People were dying en route. The barge would then stop by the edge of the river and the bodies would be laid in the field, covered with grass and left there to the despair of the weeping family.
This journey on the Amu-Daria lasted more than two weeks. When the barges occasionally pulled up to the shore, people rushed onto land to find something to eat. Sometimes they did not return on time and the barge would take off without them in spite of their entieaties and cries. Those were unforgettable scenes of human desperation. I recall how a certain man wanted to return for his son. He never made it as he fell from the narrow ledge of the barge and drowned. The Amu-D aria River etched horrible memories of the journey over its menacing waters. I will always remember the deep despair that caught hold of everyone including the children. Hopelessness, fear, hunger and lack of information regarding this inhuman journey
deprived us of the will to live. People, otherwise courageous, were paralyzed by a dreadful apathy.
Finally, we arrived at another small port. There we were piled into so-called "arby"(primitive two-wheeled wagons), and sent in various directions. Our family was assigned to an Uzbek family who knew no Russian whatsoever and we communicated with them by gestures. We were given "one room" in their mud hut. One of the Uzbeks, who seemed to be in charge, told us to report to work at dawn the next day. We were to pick cotton. Each of us was assigned a quota and I recall that it was no easy task, especially for the children. It was very difficult to crack open the hard husks surrounding the cotton boll. Our small fingers were constantly bleeding and we were forbidden to stain the cotton. Mother would wrap our fingers in some rag
scraps and send us off to work to meet the "assigned quota". In refurn for our work, we were to receive money for "kasha", a coarsely ground grain. I think it was called "uruk" and resembled rice. I don't recall ever seeing any bread there, or "lepioszka" (a flat pancake baked over red-hot coals). Around 4:00 a.m. we would be awakened. After a restless night we were half-asleep as we trudged to the cotton plantation. It was impossible to sleep because of the mosquitos. Furthermore, spread over the beaten-down earth, our bedding was infested by bed bugs. We were also pestered by body lice since we had no change of clothing and no soap for washing. The clothing we took with us from home was either too small or torn by then. In such circumstances work was hard, almost impossible. Constantly hungry and exhausted we suffered from dysentery and broke out in boils.
Once, the manager invited us for a meal. With grimy hands he reached into a bowl and handed each one of us a piece of fat mutton. We ate greedily in spite of our repugnance at the manner in which the food was served. Later all of us got severe fits of vomiting, since our famished stomachs could not tolerate this "luxury". Nevertheless, we continued working, had a little "kasha" and kept our hope alive. Perhaps, after all, we would not die of hunger. Shortly afterward, the "pretsidatel" came to tell us that we had to leave that area. The day before, Mother had washed our tattered clothing in murky water and had spread it on the grass to dry overnight. Thus, it was frozen from the frost on the ground and our stiff tattered belongings had to be put on the wagon as they were. Then we were seated on top of them. Again we resumed our nightmarish journey. An Uzbek drove the wagon pulled by a mule. The animal moved slowly, at times sinking into the mud. The roads were almost impassable and the mule often grew obstinate and refused to move. The wagon sank deeper and deeper into the mud and we were compelled to get out and push the vehicle. My brother was delirious with fever and could not stand on his feet. We had nothing to eat and night was soon upon us. We remained with the
Uzbek and his stubborn mule in a dark grove overnight. I was terribly frightened! The Uzbek cursed, screamed at us and was furious with the mule. God alone knows how we lived through that night. Again we prayed incessantly. With daybreak, courage entered our hearts. We resumed our journey. There were moments when I was so tired, that I had doubts about a better future, and preferred not to know anything. I had no desire to exist. And, what must have been going on in Mother's heart!
Somehow we finally arrived at the port. We made our trip on the same horrible Amu-Daria River.
The previous nightmare was repeated. We were humiliated, plagued by lice, ill-smelling and above all, we suffered from continuous hunger. Bread was constantly in our dreams and in our waking fantasies. All our conversations were about bread. Bread was the only dream of our life. At least in sleep we could have our fill. Joyfully we would announce: "What marvelous bread I had in my dream! I actually held it in my hands. Why did you wake me? What a pity!"
We were transported to a location near Tashkent. I was shocked at the bizarre clothing of the
women. They wore long black dresses and had their faces completely covered. A stiff thick net fell from their forehead to the ground. I was afraid to pass by them because to me they seemed to be witches. At first, we lived in this part of the USSR in a so called 'Jurta", a bamboo shanty. Packed together, several families lived in one hut. I remember that it was in such a 'Jurta" that
I spent my second Christmas in Russia (1941). Who could forget that day? Celebrating Christmas Eve was out of question. We had nothing to eat. My brother and I ran around the neighborhood trying to catch a dog to kill it for food. But, we were not successful. We could hardly endure our intense hunger. There was a woman with her three children in our hut. She always carried a small mysterious bag with her. That Christmas Eve she untied the bag and cooked the wheatit contained in it. She then gave a handful of the porridge to each of her children, who hungrily devoured the meal. Monika, my younger sister, looked longingly at the woman's hands hoping to get some of the wheat. Hesitating a moment, as she was about to reach into the pot and get some for my sister she suddenly withdrew her hand. Perhaps she feared that she would not have enough for her children for another portion. Monika burst into tears and said: "I am so hungry!" With a trembling hand the woman gave each of us a few grains of the wheat. That was our meal on Christmas Eve. We cried as we thought of our Daddy whose whereabouts were still unknown.
We found out that some women bought bread with ration cards. Occasionally a small piece was added to the scale to complete the eiact purchase. We would stand by the store boot begging for that tiny morsel of bread. Now and then a woman would give it to us. That filled us with joy for the entire day.
From there we resumed our journey to another unknown destination. This time we went by train. Our railway car was often detached and then added on to other trains. we stood for days on some forsaken track for no apparent reason. Never-ending hunger always taking away our desire to live. I recall our having a small medecine kit. Hunger had gotten the best of us, so one day without Motlier's knowledge we took to eating the pills and drinking a spoonful of the liquid
medicine. There is no doubt that we were exposing ourselves to danger, perhaps even to death, but it was all the same to us. I can't ricall what I felt at that time, but we all survived somehorv. The conditions in which we lived were most unsanitairy. Lice crawled over our ragged clothes. Eventually we were taken in an "arby" to arrother place. The procedure never varied. we traveled for long distances through absolute wastelands. Finally, our wagon stopped in a field where there was an old dilapidated barn which was to be our home. The ground was strewn with repulsively dirty straw, the doors were broken and the window openings were plugged with
bunches of straw. When it rained, it poured on our heads. We used all our pots and pans to catch the water and thus kept the remainder of our bedding dry. Several families shared this barn with us. There were no sanitary facilities and water had to be obtained from a very deep well. Since great strength was needed to draw a pail of the murky water, men were called upon for this task.
In the distance lived the local people who, if I remember correctly, were called "Karejcy" (Kytgystan). They lived in bamboo huts and wore rather peculiar clothing. These people bought anything that glittered or sparkled. The women liked to braid these trinkets into their hair. By this time, however, we had run out of our supplies. We had already sold everything long ago. They often came near our stable, squatted on the ground and laughed at us. This enraged us! Pointing at us they would speak to each other in their own language. One time one of the men from our group asked the caretaker who spoke Russian if there was anything we could do about the intruders. He advised us to get a hog's leg and show it to them the next time they came. This was the only way to scare them off. With great difficulty someone did get such a leg from town. Sure enough, the next time the intruders came for their fun, we showed them the leg and they ran screaming as if struck by a bolt of lightning. We were rid of our annoying visitors.
As soon as we had arrived, the older people were immediately put to work digging ditches. This was extremely strenuous work. Though completely exhausted, Mother went to work because this was the only way that she would be able to get some barley flour. Once a day she made us some soup with noodles. I also remernber that in the morning when we would wake up after a night spent on a floor covered with dirty straw, Mother would tell us not to get up even though
it was already very late. In this way she tried to help us forget our hunger pangs.
It was here that we met a certain frightfully thin man who swayed as he walked on his twig-like legs. Because lice were crawling all over him, we dubbed him "Mr. Lice". He did not speak and nobody knew where he carne from. Since he did not work he had nothing to eat, so Mother in her compassion gave him some soup. In gratitude he helped us by drawing water from the well.
Our methods of cooking were unique. An old shovel was placed on the edge of two rocks and under it thorny plants and dried animal excrement were ignited. Collecting this fuel was a big problem, for we had to go very far in search of it. I remember one time our search led us far afield and we wandered onto somebody's property. A large crowd of boys pursued us with sickles. Frightened, we dropped our precious stalks. I remember not having the strength to run. I could not move and remained alone. Although the boys beat me up badly I came out alive. Monika and Stasia, our friend, who were with me, were so frightened that they deserted me. They thought that they would find some help when they reached the barn. They had forgotten that we were alone, without adults there to protect us. From that time on we were afraid to go out searching for fuel. We did not want to fall into the hands of those vicious boys with sickles. They came at times quite close to the barn and we lived in constant fear.
After some time, all the adults fell ill from malnutrition, exhaustion, overwork and the wretched
unsanitary conditions. The overseer took them one after another to the "bolnia", as the hospital was called. Half alive and delirious with fever they were put on wagons and disappeared from sight. All were suffering either typhoid fever or malaria, or from painfuf ulcers. When our mother had not gone to work one day, the overseer came to check and she was driven away. In that isolated barn in a forsaken field, far from civilization and surrounded by hostile local people, we
remained alone. My sister Janina, at fourteen, was the oldest. The others were two, four, six a total of twelve children. How Janina ever managed to keep us together is hard to imagine for none of the childrln's parents were with us. "Mr. Lice" who still helped us draw water from the well fell down one day by the well and died of exhaustion. I shall never forget his wide open blue eyes turned toward heaven. He had been a very fine person. I cried bitterly over the body of our friendly helper whose corpse was covered with bugs. We wanted to bury him but we did not have anything with which to dig a grave. I do not remember how our dilemma was resolved.
Now we had no one to draw water from the well for us. When we, that is the older children, had the pail almost in hand, we had no strength to lift it. Then it would fall with a crash to the bottom of the well. What a let down for us! But, without water we could not have lived and yet I cannot recall how we coped with the situation.
Soon the ration of flour which the adults had received for their work was used op and no one was working. Not far away lived a goatherd. We would send the younger children to him to beg for a piece of "lepioszka" (pancake). Sometimes they were successful. In the surrounding fields we searched for mushrooms and found strange looking mushrooms resembling little pine trees. It was a great feast when Janina made us some mushroom soup. The boys brought another kind of food from an enclosed pasture. They would squeeze their way through the barbed-wire fences to gather "makuch" which was eaten by the cows. This was caked sunflower bran from which the oil had been pressed out. Janina would heat pieces of this bran on the old shovel and give it to us to eat. Although it upset the stomach, it at least appeased our terrible hunger. I do not know how on earth we managed to stay alive through all these experiences.
One evening toward the end of 194l, Janina was baking pancakes from barley flour which she had obtained by some miracle. We had been gathering our "special fuel" all duy so that we could make a fire under the shovel to heat it for the pancakes. We overjoyed youngsters could stand it no longer, so we surrounded the fire and sang an old Polish song, "The Old Bear is Sound Asleep." Suddenly a gentleman on horseback appeared. He listened to our song and observed us with interest. After a while he dismounted and approaching us asked what we were doing there, where were our parents and who was responsible for us. We all pointed to Janina. The gentleman took her aside and told her that the following day he would send a mule and cart. She was to load the younger children onto the cart. The others were to go on foot to Szacherziab, because camps had been organized for soldiers, and civilians were also looked after. And so it was! The mule and the cart appeared at four o'clock in the morning. The small children and our baggage, whatever rags we had, were loaded into the cart for the trip and w€, the older children, undertook the 40 kilometer (25 mile) journey by foot. Monika told us later that the journey on the wagon was very difficult. Our cousin Helen was seriously ill and lay curled up with intense pain. Yet the Uzbek who drove the children frequently ordered her to get up and follow the cart on foot because she was too heavy for the mule! Poor Hela had no strength at all and kept on falling from exhaustion.
Monika cairied a pot of "kumyz" (mare's milk) which we received in exclange for a mirror on the eve of our departure. Because the mirror sparkled, the local people wlanted to "buy" it. They had no idea what it truly was, as they had never seen a mirror before. When their girls saw themselves reflected in the mirror, they ran away screaming, thinking it was witchcraft. But they gave us the milk in exchange for the mirror. Monifa guarded the milk like a treasure, however, because of the rough and bumpy road all of it eventually spilled out of the can. She told us later that she had been saving the milk for us and that the trip in the company of the Uzbek was a most frightening one.
Sincb Helen who was older was sick, Monika took care of the small children riding with her during the trip. She didn't remember many specific details about the trip. Removed from civilization, alone, without the protection of the grown-ups, we knew nothing of the'amnesty' nor of the efforts of General Anders to free the civilians from forced-labor camps and of the prospects of their leaving the USSR. These were the outcomes of
the Sikorski-Majski Treaty of July 30, I94l. The gentleman on horseback who found us in such an inhuman situation was one of the mobilized soldiers sent to find the civilians who were dispersed throughout this extensive territory. Were it not for him, who knows how long we would have lasted under those appalling conditioni: stealing the "makuch" from the cows, drinking repugnant, slimy water, being preyed upon by lice and other vermin. The centers organized for civilians, particularl the children, were designed to snatch these human skeletons from the clutches of inevitable death.
Our journey to this camp was extremely difficult. The heat was unbearable. Because of the rugged, rockstrewn road, our legs were sore and bleeding and refused to carry us. At first we followed the path of the mule. When the mule disappeared from our sight, alarm and fear seized us. Occasionally we met some passersby and asked for directions. Once, seeing some
tents in the distance, we purposely pulled off the road to at least get a drink of water. The people living there were probably gypsies. They set a dog on us. Although no one was bitten, the animal frightened us considerably and tore the rest of our ragged clothing. Totally exhausted and in tears, w€ continued trudging forward.
Toward the end of this journey we had to cross a river. Though there was a man there with a raft, we had no money for the toll. So he showed us the most shallow part of the river and we began crossing on foot. The water reached to our necks but we got across safely. When we got to the opposite bank of the river, we sat on the rocks to rest and to recover from fright and
excitement. At that moment, I began to feel weak and told my sister that I would not move from there. Nothing mattered to me any more! I did not want to live! Terrified by my decision, in desperation Janina, our guardian angel, begged me to try standing up. She assured me that she would carry me on her back, should I not be able to walk on my own. Nothing was of any
help. "Look," she said, "I see lights in the distance. There is the camp and surely Monika is there weeping and waiting for us! We are so near." I felt sorry that Janina had to beg me so. With all the strength I could muster, I stood up and we began to run and the othef children followed. I believe there were six of us altogether. We ran ... ran ... ran as fast as we could.
I awoke in some sort of a tent. Beside me were Monika and Janina anxious but smiling. I had no idea where I was or what was happening to me. I did not remember a thing. Only later I learned that after reaching the camp at night I had fainted and slept for two days and nights. Everyone was very concerned about me. The camp held very many people, mostly children. It is impossible to describe how we looked - an assembly of scrawny, starving children that we were! We sat on our bundles, dirty and emaciated, foul smelling, hair and clothing infested with vermin. But a dawn of hope for a better tomorrow was emerging, though as a child I could not imagine what this future would be or how it would look. I was almost accustomed to this atrocious fate which befell us so unexpectedly and so unjustly. Many a time I wondered: "Will we ever refurn to our home? Will we ever meet our Daddy?" But extreme poverty, hunger and the uncertainty of tomorrow pushed these thoughts and dreams into the background. I would like to be able to recall my feelings of that period of my life, but except for fragments of
experiences impressed deeply in my memory and heart, everything remains an indelible recollection of the horrible nightmare-like days of exile, calamity and hopelessness - a gripping recollection which holds onto me. We could hardly imagine that it would be possible to get out of this atrocious situation. Did the older people have any hope? One thing is certain, had we not been freed at that time, we would have shared the fate of those who remained in this inhuman condition forever, because death brought an end to their oppression and drudgery.
From this camp we went to the hospital to visit Mother and the parents of the other children who were with us. While my cousin R. Magnowska was in the hospital she was separated from her son Tadzio and almost lost him. The four-year-old remained with her and sat by himself on the corridor. When she regained consciousness, the child was gone. She searched for him for a long time. Several months later she found him in a camp for Polish children. Apparently he wandered from the place or good people brought him to the Polish authorities who were assembling the Polish people near the army camps.
The situation in the "hospital" was deplorable. It could hardly be called a hospital. It was in fact a ramshackle shelter for those with infectious diseases who were ambulatory but needed to be isolated. Some of the sick lay on beds of boards, others simply lay on the floor. The place was overrun by flies, bedbugs and mosquitos. It was impossible to protect oneself against the vermin. Sanitary facilities were nonexistent. Mother did not recognize us when we came to visit her. Our tears and sobs were of no help. We were forced to leave her in that condition. We received new orders, this time from the Polish authorities, to proceed to the Caspian Sea. The transport was already arranged. Soldiers shared their frugal rations of food with us but we were always very hungry. I believe that was the place where we made our way to a restaurant to eat the leftovers from the Russians who ate there.
The trip to Krasnovodsk was extremely trying. Exhausted, hungry and dejected, we traveled by train which repeatedly stopped at various stations for some unknown reason. General Anders in his astuteness foresaw the possibility of Stalin revoking his permission to liberate the civilians from Russia, and was in a hurry to get everyone to the Iranian border. Since he had no
resources of his own, he had to depend on Soviet organizations which had control. This resulted in increasing difficulties that prolonged the journey. Obviously, I knew nothing of this and whatever I learned haphazardly I cannot recall in detail. Today we know that when the transport of children gathered by Bishop Jozef Gawlina in 1943, arrived in Krasnovodsk they
were denied passage across the Caspian Sea and remained in exile.
Our journey to Krasnovodsk had many tragic moments. When the train stopped at a station or in a field for any length of time, the people left the cars to cook something to eat. They probably had a small kerosene stove, I'm not sure. I do remember, however, that sometimes the shrill train whistle blew unexpectedly and the train began to move. Frantically the stunned
people ran to the coaches spilling their food and scalding themselves in the process. If they did not make it to the train they were left in the field to the despair of their families. Those were heart-rending scenes! After such experiences I had frequent nightmares of running desperately after a train. I would awake screaming in terror.
In Krasnovodsk our small group of children under the indefatigable care of Janina received some food in tins and "suchary" (dried, toasted bread) from the army. Since we were very hungr|, someone opened the tins and we hastily ate the contents which was uncooked soup that naturally our famished stomachs were unable to digest. All of us had vomiting which made the voyage in the stifling halls of the ship simply unbearable. I was very sick and do not remember the length of this experience on the Caspian Sea.
I will always remember our arrival at Pahlevi (Iran). It was April, t942. Barely alive, we left the huge ship. The fiery sun beat down on us mercilessly. Close to the beach, tents were prepared for our arrival. Exhausted, we couldn't believe our eyes, we were really free and thus, we started a new page in our life. It began with the inevitable quarantine. Our staggering human skeletons had to be examined, bathed and disinfected. We gave in to these essential requirements without any opposition. I recall two experiences quite distinctly from this time. The first was the indescribable joy of the adults who fell into each other's anns crying: "We are free! Long live Poland!" The second was the death of many children and grownups alike who, even after liberation, were dying like flies. These deaths impressed me profoundly. Everyone was obliged to report to the health office for inspection. My two sisters went before me. They returned with their heads completely shaved, wearing some odd-looking new clothes which were donated by the American Red Cross. They looked so comical that I could not refrain from laughing. They found it hard to forgive me and to this day I feel remorseful for my behavior at that time. Personally I resolved that I would not allow my hair to be cut. Since the first part of the health examination required that everyone's head be shaved, I do not know by what miracle I escaped this unpleasant measure. My long braids were spared! I had no need to wear the funny-looking scarf on my head as my two poor sisters did.
We stayed in Pahlevi a short time. I will never forget the first Mass celebrated by Bishop Gawlina on the beach. It may have been the first Mass for all of us since we began our exile. Greatly touched and overcome by emotions people sobbed uncontrollably. I realized that I, too, was overwhelmed by some strange peace and happiness. During the entire time of our
banishment I never saw a priest. I had no opportunity for confession, or any of the sacraments. on-that day people fainted from emotion and happiness. I remember that I prayed fervently for Mother who remained in Russia because of illness and for Daddv about whom we still knew nothing.
Our life in Pahlevi was well organized. Children were supervised by teachers appointed to care for them. Following prolonged starvation, we thought the food was superb. Some children ate so much and so ravenously that their stomachs could not tolerate the excessive amounts of food. Many died because they couldn't digest the food. My sister Janina was very wise and gave us small portions at a time in order to allow our digestive system to adjust to normal functioning. Where did she acquire so much wisdom? There is probably only one explanation: she became father and mother to us and considered herself responsible for our lives and well-being. Truly she deserves a monument of gratitude! Janina not only took care of her siblings, but also looked after other children whose parents remained in Russia as did our Mother. In Pahlevi, the Persian vendors walked about our camp with enonnous baskets of boiled eggs and bunches of radishes. That was a luxury for us! Once someone bought us some and to this day I remember what a feast that was for us. I had not eaten an egg during the two years of our exile! Many times the soldiers gave us some luscious dates. Our wise Janina did not permit us
to eat more than two at a tirrie. She was aware that gluttony could cost us our lives.
From Pahlevi we traveled to Teheran in scorching heat which sapped our strength. The drivers often stopped and parked the trucks in the shade of the palm trees so that they could rest. I recall that at a certain point on this trip along treacherous serpentine roads we pulled over to a brook overgrown with bulrush and full of insects and frogs. We stepped into the water to scoop some with our hands so that we could have a drink. Naturally, some of the children got sick but thirst gave us no peace in this intense heat. If I remember correctly, in Teheran we lived at first in large barracks vacated by the military. Later we were transferred to camps where we lived in tents. One time, Shah Reza Pahlevi together with his wife and small daughter visited us when we were in the barracks. They brought us sweets and the Shah was vely interested in our plight as children. He also told his daughter that she should not be so fussy about her food when others were so poor and she had everything. Since we were considered orphans we were assigned to an orphanage. My brother Edward was not with us. While still in Russia he had joined the "Junaks" (Cadets) a Polish youth organization affiliated with the Polish army that educated young boys. We did not see him for many years. His journey took him through Egypt where he finished advanced aviation courses. After demobilization he went to London, graduated from a school of engineering and settled in England.
In Teheran a large army barrack was turned into a school. We sat on bricks, class next to class in this large room. We were asked to bring ten pebbles or sticks for the mathematics class. I enjoyed these lessons very much. For more than two years I had been deprived of schooling and it was necessary to make up for lost time. In our school there were no pencils or paper. These were luxury items. My sister Janina became seriously ill with typhoid fever and later developed heart trouble. She was taken to a hospital far beyond the city limits. Monika and I wept bitterly because our only hope and support had been taken away from us. There is no doubt that the heavy responsibility of caring for us contributed to her illness. Though she was a child herself during the ordeal of our exile, she worried about the fate of our unconscious mother whom we had to leave behind and she never stopped thinking about our father. Monika and I solicited a few pennies from the soldiers and went off to visit Janina. I remember being
afraid of going to unknown places. The Persians, who were riding the bus with us, looked at us in a strange manner but we arrived safely at our destination. Janina could not believe her eyes on seeing us and we all wept for joy. Her health had improved somewhat but she still resembled a skeleton. She gave us some wise counsel as usual and urged us not to visit her again because of the hazards of the trip.
Shortly after this Monika, too, contracted typhoid fever and was taken to the hospital. I remained alone. I remember sitting by myself on the stairs and crying. Passersby would stop to ask me why I was crying. I would then enumerate my reasons: "Mother was in Russia, perhaps dead by this time, Daddy had not returned from the war, Janina was seriously ill and far away, and Monika had been taken to the hospital. As for Edward, we had no news of him either, and I am so alone." I sobbed, crying my heart out.