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Tadeusz BUBIEN


It was a wonderful and short period of my childhood. I remember the years 1938, 1939 and later very well. I was born in a magical place, in Polesie. Here the Białowieża Forest once reached, leaving relics of nature such as 200-300-year-old oaks, a great, vibrant variety of insects, plants, birds and animals. I remember swarms of colorful butterflies, moths, dragonflies floating in the air, concerts of crickets, frogs, and birds. I spent my carefree childhood with my siblings in our orchard, a garden in the meadow under the watchful eye of our babysitter Mila. We fell asleep in hammocks in the open air, enjoyed the swings, the smell of flowers, fruits, etc. A patchwork of different nationalities lived here: Polish, Jewish, Belarusian, Lithuanian, Tatar, Ukrainian, French, and German in mutual consent. Our peers came to us as guests, for games, and the language barrier did not exist. My father - Aleksander Tumiłowicz was a forester, he shows hunters from almost all over Europe around the forests. They were accompanied by exquisite ladies staying at our dinners. Father, after building two houses, set up a photo shop. Dealing mainly with photography, he gave up forestry.

In mid-August 1939, my father received a mobilization card for the war with Germany (he belonged to the Border Protection Guard - he was a platoon leader). During the farewell dinner, he told this story - “I come from a rich landowning family. My parents, Szymon and Zofia Tumiłowicz, had an estate in Borsukowa Grzęda near Minsk. I was born here, I have an older sister Olga, married to a legionnaire Okulicz. I became an orphan at the age of 16. My parents were arrested by the Soviet authorities, they died, the property was plundered, and my sister and I escaped. I miraculously survived; I was hiding in a well near our estate for over 6 months. A neighbor took me to Baranowicze under a heap of hay, where I worked as a farmhand. After the victory of the Polish Army, I settled in Hancewicze, where I was a forester, then the owner of a photographic studio. He turned to our mother: Jadzia, look after the children, I don't know if I will come back. He kissed us, said good-bye, "Stay with God," and left. I never saw my father alive again.

Troops of the popular levy marched through the streets of Hancewicz with batons, sabers, and rifles. They were supposed to protect the inhabitants, because more and more often there was talk of a war with the Russians or with the Germans. Food stocks were prepared, shelters were built, shops were closed. Polish troops moved at night. Salt, sugar, matches were bought up.

I constructed a crystal radio, receiving broadcasts from Baranowicze (about 50 km from Hancewicz). On September 1, we knew about the war. I used to say: "airports are bombed"; "raids on Warsaw, Modlin"; "strike from Prussia". The first German air raids - several bombs fell on Hancewicze, there are dead and wounded. Baranavichy was bombed. Fires visible at night. No radio communication.

Before 10.IX.39 in the evening, my mother bandaged a Polish soldier, gave him bread, milk, and a blanket. He could barely walk. He sat under a tree. A German plane was coming, quite low, killing people on the road. We ran to the shelter. The soldier took aim, fired his rifle, the plane went up and crashed behind the forest, people cheered, wanted to congratulate him, but the soldier was already dead. Today I know that honor was stronger than death. The airstrikes stopped. We knew that Poland was under German occupation.

I witnessed the attack of Soviet troops on Poland. I remember the extremely hot summer of 1939. We never left our area anymore. Our whole family came to Hancewicze. We had a lot of supplies in the cellars, water from our own well, a supply of fuel, biscuits, poultry. Fewer and fewer people came to the shop for portraits.

On September 16, until late at night, my grandmother baked bread, I carried firewood from the woodshed. On September 17, around noon, I was awakened by the clatter of metal, gunshots, screams and the neighing of horses. I jumped out of bed; the elders of the family were already standing at the window behind the curtains. I squeezed under their elbows. The entire width of our street was being marched by the Soviet army. At the head of the troops rode a commander. Suddenly everyone stepped back. “God for us!” cried Grandmother. Indeed, the commander rode up to our fence on horseback and destroyed 6 or 7 pots hanging on the fence with his saber - to this day I do not know why. Shots rang out - they shot at Polish soldiers who did not have time to raise their hands up. The dead fell.

The infantry was followed by horses pulling carts with cannons. A dull roar, tanks moving, loaded carts with people and horses standing over the ditches. It cannot be forgotten. The shooting moved to the swamps. It lasted until dusk. A frightened Poleszuczka ran to us - "Lady, it is red with blood, the dead are densely lying, I will not reach my hut." "Please spend the night with us, I'll serve dinner in a Motherent." The area was defended by the Border Protection Corps. Today I know that we had no chance, because the Soviet army attacked Poland along the entire length of the eastern border (1400 km).

Residents' meetings were ordered. An amnesty was announced for prisoners, entrusting them with positions. A Workers' Council was appointed. Censuses began, explaining that the Soviet army had liberated the poor from masters and bloodsuckers. Shops closed. The NKVD ordered all men between the ages of 18 and 50 to appear for public works, to draw up lists and then summon them for interrogation. Many people never returned home. The cellar's food supply was dwindling. Savings could not be withdrawn from banks. The neighbor did not pay back their debt (this is a total loss of over PLN 5,000). We still have full drawers of coins, including silver ones.

On November 2, 1939, my youngest sister Helenka was born, bringing a lot of joy. Before Christmas Eve, the gamekeeper came to us, bringing a Christmas tree and a message from our father. He is in Warsaw, says hello, he did not give his address. It's Christmas Eve time, carefully prepared. "The first star", 12 dishes, 13 people in the house, we are dressed for the holidays. Our last Christmas Eve in our family home. Prayer, white tablecloth, sharing the wafer, wishes. Tasty meals. The smell of real candles, hand-made toys spinning on the Christmas tree in different directions, angels, clowns, bunnies, hanging candies ... and surprisingly in this situation there are gifts for everyone. The NKVD closed the church... we sang Christmas carols.

Suddenly there is a bang on the shutters, curses, a soldier shouts: "Whoever is singing there, be silent!". Only now did we realize that we were under Soviet occupation. Silence reigned… they could arrest us. This is how we welcomed the New Year 1940.

The next day Stanisław Bubień left for Lida, where he found a job in an exchange office on the railway. His wife Irena became a clerk, maid and office cleaner. Uncle used his knowledge of 4 languages (Polish, Belarusian, Ukrainian, Latin). He told us: I will help you and all those who are in danger of being arrested.

November 24, 1940, we met for the last time. This time without my mother's brother-in-law, Jan Gilejko, who on 25. IX. In 1939, was arrested by the NKVD in Stołpce, acting as the manager of the train between Poland and the USSR. Accused as a spy, he was sentenced to 8 years in the gulags. He was imprisoned in Baranowicze, mistreated, and interrogated. He left for Kolyma on November 10, 1940 in a cattle car, which we did not know at the time.

On November 28, 1940, in Hancewicze, my aunt Łucja Gilejko gave birth to a son, Zbyszek. It was quite a harsh winter, lots of snow. But we had plenty of fuel (wood). Heavy Soviet equipment went on caterpillar tracks, pulling 200-300-year-old oaks out of the forest. People whispered "theft, robbery." The gamekeeper brought us thick branches cut from these trees that were exported to the USSR. Soon we are visited by a young NKVD member - "It's nice here" - he liked the corridor with a row of colorful stained-glass windows..                                                                                                                                                                                                             
On the night of April 11/12, 1940, we heard a bang on the door, shouts, curses - loud "Otkroj!" (open). Mother struggled with the door bar, pushed in by the advancing Soviet soldiers, and falls - all of us were barefoot. You are under arrest,” shouted the commander, pistol in hand. Behind him were two soldiers with bayonets fixed on their rifles, then two coachmen.

"Ruki w wierch" (hands up). The door remained open all this time, terrible cold, our teeth chattered. "There will be a review. Don't move or I'll shoot," the NKVD soldier shouts. We started crying along with the babies. Two alarm clocks were stolen from the table, jewelry, watches, and silver coins from the drawers. Everything that was in the cupboards was thrown in the middle of the rooms. So much fur and leather on the floor, some clothes... "It's bourgeois!" shouted the NKVD man. The second soldier had a gun aimed at us. Before the search, my mother had burned two drawers full of photos, which were certainly of historical importance. – "Where are the weapons?" "Where's the husband?" "He went to war, he didn't come back." "There are no weapons," he said. – “The Tumiłowicz family – you have half an hour to leave.” "But I have four children." said Mother. -"Be silent! You can take 100 kg with you and 30 kg for children. Put your hands down!” - "Luciu" - mother turned to her sister, "I'll leave you Helenka, with two babies you won't be arrested". - "Okay dear, leave the baby blanket."

Everyone helped pack, Mother put on as many clothes as possible, Grandmother packed freshly baked loaves of bread. In a Motherent tears of farewell, signs of the cross behind the curtains. The snow stuck to our tearful eyes. We sat in a sleigh on a bundle of straw. Behind us is an NKVD convoy with rifles aimed at us, they have blankets. Mother keeps us with her, singing "Who's Taking Care of...". “Silence” she hears, she sings on… She whispers to us “pray children….” At the station in Hancewicze, we were put into a wagon and locked together with a soldier. We arrived in Baranowicze on April 13. 1940. We spent the night on the platform – it was very cold. A soldier with a rifle was nearby, he walked around all night, and did not speak. In the morning they changed to another soldier. He lets us relieve ourselves under the wagon. "Don't run away - I'll shoot," he warns.

Mother took off her ring - "let me look for my family." "Go." She didn't come back for a long time - we started to cry. "Don't cry, or I'll shoot you," I heard. I understood, I reassured Justyna and Teresa. "Stasia, drink and eat". Mother came back with a smile - "Grandfather, grandmother, uncle, are all on the train" - she points out. Walking back to us with water, she does not see Aunt Gilejko approaching us. She picks up Helenka once, puts her on the platform, then Zbyszek, then the baggage, led Rysio by the hand... She saw our mother, she doesn't speak Russian. – but tried to indicate that she wanted to reach us, but he doesn't understand. He turned around, took out a handkerchief, wipes away his tears ... he was human. He orders the babies to be taken, calls two of his convoy, "Pick them up." "We are not allowed." I order - for disobeying the order I will shoot you. It worked. That's how we got Helenka back. Auntie went into the wagon, we still stayed outside.

14.IV.1940, we were loaded into a cattle car. The car is dark, in the middle there is a stove, next to it there is a hole, two gutters on the sides - this is a toilet. Bunks against the walls at either end, two small barbed-wire windows at the top. On April 15/16, we set off at night. We heard the Polish anthem sung, and "Serdeczna Matko" - they were singing in the wagons. The guards pounded the walls with their rifle butts - but we still sang. Passing the Polish border, everyone cried. We held on to our bundles as we changed to the Russian wagons. We heard the unbearable "tratats" (the sound of the wheels banging at the joints of the rails). Mother held Helenka on her lap. "What to do, my food is gone." – “Madam, crush bread crumbs, dissolve them in saliva and give them to me.”  Helenka has diarrhea - there are only 40 diapers. - "Put the dry one on the made one, sit down, dry it with your body, crumble it and use it again." We don’t have water. For 13 days and nights we didn't wash once. The feldsher comes in. – "Are there any sick?" "Yes, ten." "I don't see anything." – and he leaves. In Smolensk, a cauldron is brought in, beets with millet, and particles of groats float in it. "For more than 70 people." Everyone had run out of food. But finally warm food ... we share whatever bread we had. They gave us this "soup" every day - once a day. At the stations we bought 1-2 buckets of boiling water - water that is sometimes poured straight from the pipe under the steam locomotive.

After Smolensk, 3 people died. We notified the guard. "Give me the dead." They grabbed their legs, throw them into a ditch with the comment "wolves have to eat too."  Fleas, lice and bedbugs beset us. Incredible suffering. Wounds, boils appear.

23.IV.1940 we reached Aktyubinsk. Powerless, we fall from the wagon, and are struck by daylight. The overseer with the whip puts us together. What a delight, such good air. give us a piece of black bread. Next to the latrine. No one is embarrassed anymore. A very cold night, but our whole family is together. Grandfather takes off his sheepskin coat, covers us, walks all night alone. Dawn of 24.IV.1940. A watchman of short stature, with slanted eyes, yellow complexion, goat beard, mustache hanging down, in a dirty fleece jacket, whips the approaching natives away.

In the afternoon of April 24. we left Aktyubinsk for the place of our exile. We sat in the open bed of a truck, the sides of which have been chained together. The convoy consisted of five vehicles, one family riding separately in each. The sky was covered with leaden gray clouds, and it started to rain. We drove along a soggy dirt road, past telegraph poles. We were wet and holding on to the chains. Helenka's shawl was soaked. In the distance were the snow-capped peaks of the Urals. Constant, menacing slides sideways on steep hills. A number of dishes fell out of one car. The woman despaired; the driver laughed. "Finally, I have something to take home on the way back." We drove into the valley, and there was a fairy-tale world: lots of wild tulips: white, yellow, maroon with patterns. A wonderful smell…

We arrive at the river. There are three cars with exiles in the currents. The rain is pouring down. Our driver pulls in, and gets stuck. They bring three oxen, and a tractor. The rope breaks. The truck with Grandmother and Grandfather Tadzio is tilting dangerously. "They want to drown us," Grandmother shouts. The brutally beaten oxen pull out two cars and die on the shore. A tractor with an ox pulls us out. There is a10 minute break. Out of breath, my aunt and mother enter the office to feed the babies. The seated representative bangs his fist on a table covered with red cloth. – “It's not an orphanage - the office of the Land of Soviets." They leave crying. The babies are still hungry.

At twilight, we reach a stone bridge over the river. Three dingy mud huts, then two more ... the natives came out, dirty, ragged. The NKVD officer told us: Here you will live, work, be born and die, and you will not return to Poland, because Poland does not exist and will not exist. He left.

The host of the mud hut came up, ordered us to bring our baggage, but we didn't have the strength... Kyrgyz people helped us. We walked down a long corridor made of wicker. Goats and rams chirped behind the wall. We waded ankle-deep in thin, foul-smelling dung, coming to a dry dirt floor. We had difficulty breathing. The host punched three small windows - they were made of fish bladders. The crisp, steppe air blew in. The Kyrgyz put down a hand-held kerosene lamp. He loaded the shotgun, settled down on one of the bunks, and began to snore terribly. He woke up, we said our prayers, he listened. He turned off the lamp. Fleas, lice, and vermin falling from the ceiling beset us.

In the morning we were woken by the pleasant warmth of the samovar and the smell of tea. The Kyrgyz, with his wife and child, were sitting drinking chai. He was smiling. He took down wooden cups from one shelf, blew off the dust, poured koumiss (horse's milk) and handed it to us - we drank it immediately. He took a strip of wheat from his trouser pocket, and we tore it open with a stick on the threshing floor. He explained to my mother and Grandfather Tadzio that we were 70 km east of Aktyubinsk. We spent the rest of the day drying our things, and we washed up for the first time in two weeks.

As we dry our things, the natives think these things are for trade; they touch, they bargain, we don't speak their language. Grandmother orders a return to the mud hut, which outrages the Kyrgyz. I carry water from a distant river - after 14 days and nights I must wash. The babies don't have milk. There are shepherds in the distance, where you can see goats and sheep. I'm going there with my mother. I bow many times; we ask for milk by sign language… A Kyrgyz man in a sheepskin coat and sheepskin cap knocks out a large Polish enamel mug with a stick and examines it in the grass. He picks it up, milks the goat, gives me the milk. I swallow quickly. He repeats the action, hands it to his mother, looks into her blue eyes, an empty cup again. He hands it back to us with milk, points to the mud huts with his stick. We bow. We leave. Far away in the steppe the echo carries Polish songs that my mother sings. A sea of fragrant tulips under our feet.

The next day, dawn. There is a team of oxen in front of our mud hut, the brigadier bursts in - "Get together, we're going to another kolkhoz." We gather our things in a hurry, no need to get dressed - we slept in our clothes. Grandfather, with the babies and baggage, rides on the cart. The others go on foot. Auntie and Tadzio take turns carrying Teresa and Ryś, tripping over clumps of grass. They are all wet up to the waist. The coachman sings: when I was a Kyrgyz, I ate meat, drank koumiss. Becoming a Kazakh, I lost my belly. We arrived at the Chan-Czar kolkhoz completely exhausted.

In the previous collective farm, we were one Polish family. Here we met other Poles, and we could communicate in Russian. We stayed in a mud hut abandoned by a Kazakh for not showing up for work. No stove. Grandfather and Tadzio started construction, I carried water and clay. The sun came out. We carry things out in front of the mud hut again. We need to sell something to win the favor of the natives in this kolkhoz. The furnace collapsed. We couldn't keep warm. In the morning, the brigadier bursts into the mud hut with a great cry. "Get up for work, you are convicts." Mother, Aunt and Tadzio leave without a meal. They carry 50 kg sacks of wheat. They tip over. The Kyrgyz overseer beats his legs with a whip. This is the first slave job. Here women work, men rest. The year 1940 was the worst adjustment period for us. We are happy to discover a surprise. Tadzio takes a camera out of a bayonet-riddled pillow. "Yes, it passed," he says. It takes a lot of courage to put it in a pillow unnoticed during the search. They could shoot us for that. Documentary photos were taken here. On the next day, harrowing of the steppe, 9 km long fields. The brigadier teaches how to beat oxen until they bleed... From dawn to late in the evening, work for the 100 grams of bread, while young people have only 50 grams. In the Czan-Czar kolkhoz, they don't pay us anything until July 1940. Then we get a hay wagon… "You can sell it," says the chairman. We all have malaria. If left untreated, it leads to death. We are not allowed to go anywhere beyond the area of the kolkhoz farms and part of the steppe (without permission). The chairman allows my mother to go to Aktyubinsk for quinine - 70 km across the steppe. She drives a bit, walks, gets quinine, the malaria goes away.

I go to the Karhała and Żyzdybaj rivers and I fish. We have food to eat. I collect cow dung with my siblings for firewood, we dry it, at night they steal it (it wasn't marked). I catch gophers, I'm hungry all day. 5-6 gophers a day is not enough. I walk barefoot in the steppe looking for wild onions, I have no shoes. We have malaria again. Attacks are becoming more frequent; we have no strength to walk. Mother, walking (with permission from the NKVD) to Aktiubinsk, collects quinine, again establishes contacts - she gives the film to be developed. I was overdosed by my Grandmother (by mistake), I lose consciousness, my heart hurts. We're starving, Grandfather swells. Mother and Aunt milked goats and cows, they steal milk, we revived. I'm supposed to learn to be a shepherd - says the brigadier - I can count to 100. It's not easy, I can't get on a horse quickly, I get lashed. “You won't learn without them,” says the older shepherd. In the mudroom, I don't admit to these times. I'm going back to the steppe to study. I can already see the shepherds' bonfire. I stepped barefoot on a viper, it bit me, I nearly fainted from fright.  I know, a few hours of life. I run… I show my teachers, I 'hiss'. They understood. Knife in the fire, the Kyrgyz sucked the wound, spat out the blood. He pierced my foot with an ember knife, squeezed it out, and dropped the weed into a cup of boiling water. - "You will live." I thanked him by kissing his hands. It's outside of their custom. -"What's wrong?" Mother asks. - "Thorns in the feet." - "Take out quickly!" I didn't show the bleeding foot wrapped in rags. I had a fever for two weeks, and at night I dreamed various dreams. I wrap my feet in rags, tie them with strings and go to the steppe, but not barefoot. I carry river water every day. We get 16 kg of wheat; I spin the millstones. We carry Zbyszek in our hands, he has bloody diarrhea, he is losing weight. Tadzio doesn't come back all week (he would have to walk 7-8 km). He is liked and valued as a good coachman. I go out into the steppe - this time I am enchanted. Billions of grasshoppers give concerts, colorful butterflies all around. I sat down and listened to this great orchestra. A whirlwind appears a few miles from me, growing, powerful. I escape about 1.5 km running to the mud hut.

Mother submits applications to the NKVD "We want to go to Aleksandrówka, we won't survive here." I went with my Mother. -"You will take the stolen milk for Helenka and Zbyszka, be careful not to get caught." We break for lunch soon. A Kyrgyz woman milks a goat then defecates in the bucket of milk. Mother shouts to her, "She will strain it and boil it in the cauldron" - she hears in response. A piece of meat (a rarity) hangs on a peg - it's for lunch for the workers. It is covered with lots of flies.

The Kyrgyz proposes a mud hut in the Czan-Czar kolkhoz for 400 rubles. The NKVD allows the change of kolkhoz. The landlord disagrees. The argument - "Poles are good kolkhoz workers". We have to leave in a convoy to Aleksandrówka (only across the river). They didn't pay us for our work. The NKVD orders them to give us grain. They hesitate.

We now live close to the river (50-60 meters). Grandfather got a job as a watchman, aunt and mother are milkmaids. Over 100 cows died here due to lack of fodder, and many sheep were torn to pieces by wolves. It is a larger kolkhoz - 6 or 7 Polish families, about 50 km from Aktiubinsk. There is a post office.

From the beginning we write desperate letters to my mother's brother in Lida, asking for parcels. He is also the link between us and our father in Warsaw, until the outbreak of the German-Soviet war. His family has been queuing since dawn to get food, makhorka, tea for us - they send parcels to us - some are stolen at the post office. We receive letters often. In one of them he writes: "Heat up, he's cold." Tadzio heats the letter up. Between the lines appears a brown handwriting with valuable messages. “He wrote with milk,” says Tadzio. One more letter, a message in code under the stamp. Uncle stopped taking risks, we burned the letters. My aunt and mother were allowed to go to Aktiubinsk for bread. They sold many dresses and things, they also took Justyna with Tadzio to the hospital in Aktiubinsk - scurvy, all her teeth are moving. A Polish nurse I knew found a place for her. The Czan-Czar kolkhoz pays 2 pods of wheat, the rest is hay. The grain was sold for rubles. From Aktyubinsk, our kolkhoz workers bring as much as 22 kg of bread - for the things sold - we exchange them for biscuits.

On July 16, 1940, my cousin Zbigniew Gilejko dies, and on September 22. 1940, my youngest sister Helena Tumiłowicz. A few days ago, she clung to my hands, as I carried her around the mud hut, singing. Now we go towards the hill, where there is a cross made of sticks for Zbyszek. From now on, the steppe wind and the eagles will sing to them. They died of starvation and disease.

Tadzio and I meet with Babaj Kyrgyz. "I'm going to my ancestors”– he turned to Tadzio. -"Come, you know the steppe" he nodded at me. We got there and we see some burial mounds. The Kyrgyz laid out a rug and bowed down. We, kneeling in the grass, did the same. We noticed an east-west band of blue tulips, as if passing through barrows. Tadzio said "There is Poland 5000 km from us". We were seized by an unprecedented longing, tears flowed - the Kyrgyz noticed this, touched, he embraced us. We didn't say a word. He understood that we felt sorry for his ancestors. – … “Here lie my Grandfather, shot by Soviet soldiers." "They didn't want to give the yurts, large herds of sheep and horses, to the kolkhoz." Since then, all the Kyrgyz and Kazakhs have become our great friends.

I went to pick onions going towards the "Kinderluk" hill. And suddenly a milky mist descended. I lost track of my place. I returned to the mud hut in the morning along the river on my knees due to my injured feet, my grandmother praying for my return. Mother thought I was staying with Tadzio, who didn't return to the mud hut for weeks.

It's getting harder to get firewood. Grandfather and I go far into the steppe, we carry half a sack of 'kiziak' each. There are few cows. We harvest the spherical bushes of “pieretykoły” rushing across the steppe. A few for firewood every day.

I was again offered to study as a shepherd or go to school. I was in the local Jaslo for a short time” – something like a “Children's Home” – we discovered that it was only for children of USSR citizens. I went back to the shepherds who are not far from my mother and aunt who are milking the cows. A "bajec" on horseback blocks my way. - "Who are you?" - "Pole". Without saying a word, he started beating me with the whip. I was dodging around the horse. The cry for help was heard by my mother, panting, she came running with a pitchfork. She got hit with the whip that wrapped around her hand, she snatched the torturer away, he got hit with the pitchfork. – “I will report this to the NKVD!” That's what they were afraid of. The rider sped off into the steppe.

The gophers were already sleeping in their burrows. Anyway, after my recent experiences, I decided not to kill them again. Pouring out the water, I caught 2 adults, followed by 9 sucklings. I realized that I had killed my parents. I couldn't help but cry. The chairman ordered the construction of a dam - the river was quite narrow at two hills. We all had jobs. I, a minor, had 50 grams of bread per day. There were grand irrigation plans. "You won't be working, go to school," Mother said. I went. Everything in Russian. After two weeks, I was under the care of Komsomols, and the teacher was beating me with a pointer on my calves, although I was not the worst. Tadzio discovered the bruises, I confessed. - "Don't forget to speak Polish, despite your bruises." I remembered.

Correspondence with my uncle from Lida stopped, we knew about the war with Germany. "Everything to the front." Starving again. How to go to school in winter since I had grown out of the felt boots. I studied in the mud hut with a prayer book and magazines sent by my uncle. We found out that there is a real cow farm. In the kolkhoz, the unharvested grain is covered with snow. They brought in two Chechens. At night they gathered handfuls of grain. In the morning, they were shot by the NKVD for stealing collective farm property.

A hero on leave came from the front in January 1942, with numerous medals. There was no end to his stories. The cows starved to death, but the horse got a ration of steppe grass. A blizzard began. He left for Aktyubinsk. Soon, the NKVD arrested the chairman of Aleksandrówka, because "he hid a soldier who did not appear at the front." It was only in the spring that his saber, rifle, part of a shoe and medals were found on the road. A four-year-old child from the Czan-Czar kolkhoz was also eaten by wolves that year.

I was afraid of wolves. In February 1942, it was cold in the mud hut, and we additionally covered ourselves with steppe grass. At night I went with my grandfather in the freezing cold. I called my grandfather, but he's gone. I went back to the mud hut. 6-8 meters from me was a giant wolf. I was speechless, my hair stood on end, and I backed up slowly to shield my back against the mud hut. I couldn't get my voice out. Finally, I shouted "Wiilk!!!" Mother and auntie jumped up and ran out with the pitchfork. Earlier, Grandfather hadn't noticed that I hadn't come back, and closed the door with a ring plug. The wolf left, eating the rags as it went.

Great snowstorm. Kyrgyz holiday of "Five Travelers". It is in their memory that a meeting is organized by the huge cauldron, where noodles with pieces of mutton are cooked (we can't afford it), and revelers with rolled-up sleeves fish noodles and meat straight from the cauldron, spinning stories. A randomly appointed guardian watches over the observance of the ritual. At the ceiling, a kerosene lamp illuminates the darkness, and the cook keeps puting a “kiziak” under the cauldron.

Spring 1942. Mother drives horses well, the only couple in Aleksandrówka. The chairman states - "You will go with me to get bread in Aktyubinsk." She went. On her way back, she noticed a broken dam. "I'm not going." "I'll shoot." The chairman takes out a pistol. The inhabitants are waiting for bread... - Go, the horses listen to you. Pray to your God, because we will both die, and the inhabitants will starve to death." A few minutes later a dull thunder and crashing snowmen with ice floes announced to everyone the end of this building. The floods of the Żyzdybaj River joined in. It started to rain. Water flooded about 1.5 km of land around us, cutting us off from the world for three weeks. Thanks to the delivery of bread, the inhabitants survived.

We ran away again to be closer to Aktyubinsk. There were also several hundred starving cows (left in the field in winter). But over 500 survived. Mother and aunt, with a very good reputation, got the job of milking 15 cows by hand 3 times a day. It was possible because the cows did not give more than 1.5-2 liters of milk. An impossible prize was set. For the preservation of 15 calves from 15 cows, a heifer for ownership. My aunt and mother made a deal. One will give the other milk (they will steal some for us), while the other will raise 15 calves. The kolkhoz also had a garden, with a river next to it. Grandfather became the keeper of the haystack. Grandmother was sick all the time. Watermelons, parsley and cucumbers were stolen from the gardens. The supervisor often took them after catching the perpetrator without notifying the NKVD.

Tadzio went on foot to Aktyubinsk on 6. IX. 1942, together with six Poles, he joined the Polish Army being formed there by General Anders. We missed this very energetic person.

The NKVD called my mother and aunt. - "You are to take citizenship of the USSR; you will then earn as much as the Russians"; - "No". they replied. "We're giving you two weeks to think about it." Then the convoy arrived. The commander asked, "You accept?" - "No"; "You are under arrest!" They take them, much to our despair. Mother says goodbye with the words: we'll come back. Our main breadwinners were imprisoned for three months. There it was said: "your whole family will die"; "we will give you to criminals for rape in one cell." Mother replied: If your children are born, we will gladly ask Comrade Stalin to look after them. That's what they were afraid of. Finally, they agreed to take citizenship - in a few months. After 11 days, blackened, emaciated, they stood on the threshold of the mud hut, happily returning to work. My aunt received a heifer as a reward, my mother was reprimanded for raising only one bull named "Ataman".

I discovered that the watchman went to the milk basin every day with a stick, he took out a small glass plate, and on the stick he had a thick skin of pasteurized milk. He offered to share the trophy on the condition that I didn't tell anyone. I didn't say how I nourished myself for several months. Most of us got sick, Grandfather even swelled (he gave away his portions of food). We found that we needed hospital treatment for a period of time, with normal meals. That's how we found ourselves in Aktyubinsk. Here we already arranged for NKVD permits to travel to the south of the republic. We checked everything that was possible.

In the Sovkhoz “Zara – Swoboda” we sold everything in September 1944. We were allowed to come to the hospital in Aktiubinsk (the sick were: grandfather, grandmother, aunt, and Justyna). There were no beds in the hospital - wounded soldiers brought from the front had priority. We were staying with Polish friends. - "Now you can change your place of residence, go south, run away closer to Poland" - they advise. Through Tashkent, we arrive by train to Nikolaev. We presented a certificate from the Aktyubinsk hospital about our diseases. The Ukrainian NKVD takes us to the common room of the school in Nikolaev, Warwarowski District.

A leg infection was developing, but there was no medical help. Mother asks, "What would Daddy wish?" The answer is: "Stand on free Polish soil and eat real Polesie wholemeal bread." On the night of October 14/15, 1944, my grandfather died, he held my hand for a while; candles were burning. Fear overwhelms me. Two big tears run down Grandfather's face. He utters the last words: "God, Saint Joseph." The funeral was in Nikolaev near the church, a dozen people followed the coffin. This was a common sight at the time. To this day, we do not know how the church bells rang, since the stairs to the belfry were broken. Great sadness overwhelmed us, this was the third victim in our family. We made contact with Lida, we received addresses, including those of Tadeusz Bubień, a soldier of the Polisdh 2nd Corps who settled in England. In the Ukrainian NKVD in Nikolaev, my mother filed a written complaint: “Due to the lack of the promised medical help, my father died on October 15, 1944…”

We were afraid that they may take us back to Aktyubinsk, but they were directing us to the "Telman" state farm. Water is delivered in barrel trucks (the pond and wells are poisoned). We were welcomed by the chairman. "Here you have to work a year - half the work, milking the cows." Workers know this. There was electric light in our room. They regularly pay our mother and aunt for their work. They suggested to me: "Learn to drive, you will be a water carrier." I know, but I don't admit it. “I want to go to school," I say. Winter is passing. We establish contact with Poles. “They may not let you go to Poland,” they say. A year passes. Mother and aunt report to the NKVD in Nikolaev. “We want to return to Poland, which has long been liberated,” they argue. After great hardships, they get a pass No. 24366 on September 12, 1945, to travel to Lviv, valid until the end of October 1945. They report it to the chairman of the sovkhoz. Dissatisfied. – “Why Lviv, you can work here, the children will also get a job”.

They did not want to give us an evacuation card to Poland without an invitation. There is no one to send us such an invitation (we have no family). Mother's brother already knew about it. He made a decision. He left his family in Lida. He quit his job, and his director (a Russian) secretly blocks his departure to Poland. Uncle hid some documents in his shoes, got into a freight car and arrived illegally in Lublin. Here he received the position of a subordinate official in the Provisional Government. He received an apartment, and legally brought his family from Lida, and sent us an invitation. The chairman of our sovkhoz "Telman" deliberately made our stay expire in order to invalidate our permit to leave for Lviv - he succeeded.

Next comes the case. An orphan Pole came to our farm with herrings in barrels, we bought some herrings. “I am also Polish,” he says. We invite him to dinner, agreeing at once: "We will run away with him to Lviv at night." -"Risky." – he said, – “but it should work.” One more time I'll come feigning a sale, and  I'll put you behind the stinking herring barrels, you're not allowed to cough, sneeze or talk on the way, cover yourselves with pieces of tarpaulin.

From October 2 to 3, 1945, on a foggy night, we boarded one at a time... On the way, he gave out herrings in kilograms at a very low price to the patrols he encountered. The smell convinced the soldiers. In Lviv, we settled the agreed payment and kissed our very sweaty benefactor heartily, saying goodbye to him. – “Maybe one day I will run away to Poland…”; - "Please God!" - he heard.

Quarantine in Lviv, under the care of the Polish Red Cross, repatriation authorities, and some mixed commission. We sleep on wooden bunk beds from October 17, 1945, but we were registered in Lublin only on November 17, 1945.

Almost everyone was crying with joy. Finally, Polish names, Polish speech. Someone is picked us up from the station. We went to dinner at PCK. Something wonderful. Only the ladies were surprised: "Why are you in shorts?"; "Because it's the only pants I have," I reply.

They took us to our temporary residence, to the barracks at Majdanek. . During the war, Lublin lost about 140 buildings due to bombing. My mother took out photos from Kazakhstan and some documents from her bra, and from another compartment the rolled-up diary of her brother Tadeusz Bubień, written day after day in 1940-42 in Kazakhstan. "They have arrived," he said.

My mother's brother was waiting for us, not knowing that we were already quartered at Majdanek. Moving to work in the Tax Chamber, he acted as a supervisor of sugar production in the Lubelska Sugar Plant. He got help from the office of a comrade armed with a pistol, an ardent communist, with whom he talked in his free time about this system ... One day (I don't remember the date from my uncle's story) the companion called my uncle "some woman in shawls and waders is here”.

Jadzia!” - exclaimed my uncle - falling into her arms with tears of joy. - "Who is this?" asked the surprised companion. "My own sister has just come back from your country." He didn't believe it. – “Can you show me the document?”; - "You can see that I am from the Bubień house." In the days that followed, he realized, "Ah, that's true," he said. We had Christmas Eve with my uncle's family. Then, by a miracle, we found a boarding house on Drobna Street, 36/2.16 m2 for 7 people, without water, with a coal stove, without a toilet.

The government of the People's Republic of Poland was in no hurry to grant us a flat, as we did not belong to the Polish United Workers' Party. The fact that we lost all our property, our Grandparents, parents, no one from the authorities cared. But we were happy that we could educate ourselves and become fluent in Polish after 5 years and 7 months of Russification. I woke up at night for a long time - because the nightmare of exile haunted my dreams for many years.

Due to the limited number of pages in my memoir, I have omitted many events - tragic and comic, perhaps interesting descriptions of the customs preserved at that time by the inhabitants and exiles we encountered. Some events left a permanent mark on my psyche. For example, at the end of our stay in Kazakhstan, a family of 12 Romanians arrived. Out of hunger, they caught and fried grasshoppers, butterflies, various insect larvae. Only one girl survived. One of the Moldavians was outside the mud hut for too long, after entering he rubbed his ear and it crumbled due to the frost of - 47/48°C.

It is also worth mentioning the names of people we met there. In the Czan-Czar collective farm - there was a Polish family (I don't remember their names), two children died, a boy and a girl; the collective farm foreman Aliyev and Babai. Aleksandrowka – Poles we met: Edward Skawiński, Stefania Grabowska with her daughter, Noczewkowa, Maria Kozłowa, Halina and Wanda Jachowska, Tadeusz Błażewicz, Jan Szadziszewicz, Wojszwiłowa, Jurewicz, Dr. Podhajka, president of Korolew, Abłais brigadiers, Samura and Chervachenko.

We, four illiterate Polish children, were happy going to school in Lublin. The real heroes in the family, thanks to whom we children survived in exile, I consider: my grandfather Józef Bubień, who, suffering from a hernia, carried sacks with "kiziak", covered us with his clothes, being very cold himself. He secretly gave us his food rations (it was only revealed how much when he swelled up from hunger).

My indomitable and very resourceful mother, who, suffering from sciatic nerve and pretended that nothing hurt, worked from dawn to dusk, teaching us the Polish language, mathematics, and customs. Overcoming every difficult situation, she was always a true patriot.

It is worth remembering my uncle, Stanisław Bubień, who with his family stood in queues from five in the morning to buy and send to Kazakhstan the means of subsistence (food), to maintain us until the end, taking care of all official matters. Not belonging to any organization - he was not suspected and thanks to that he could work on the railway in Lida under the Soviet and German occupation, and save thousands of people of different nationalities from being arrested and shot.


Source:  Article originally published in Polish in Echa Polesia, January 2008


Copyright: Echa Polesie

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