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Tadeusz (Ted) KROL

Written by Tadeusz and edited by Linda and John

Part 1 of 6

Our Roots


Our father, Fortunat Krol, was born on June 1, 1900 in Piaski Krolewskie, northwest of Warsaw, in Poland. Not much is known about his family. Unfortunately, we lacked the foresight to ask questions when Father and Mother were alive, and now it is too late.

We have tried to learn something about the place where our father was born, but it was just a hamlet, and little of it remains.

During a visit to Poland in May 2008, Ted and John, along with Barbara and Linda, were able to spend some time in the Piaski Krolewskie area. There are only a few scattered homes there now. The community does provide an access point to the large and heavily wooded Polish National Park, called Kampinoski Park Narodowy. Ted and John did discover a historical marker that went into a good deal of the history of this area, where early residents were primarily engaged in forest products including lumber, tar, and charcoal.

They also discovered that their father’s parents were buried in the St. Margaret’s Church cemetery in Leoncin, a small village about 6 miles from Piaski Krolewskie. However, after a good deal of walking through that cemetery they were still unable to find their grandparents’ headstones. Danka Novak later helped to secure a copy of Fortunat Krol’s birth certificate, which was written in Cyrillic Russian. That certificate was issued by the parish priest of the church in Leoncin and states that 58-year-old Jan Krol, a farmer, came to the church to have his infant son, Fortunat, baptized on the day of his birth, June 1, 1900.

Fortunat’s parents were widower Jan Krol and his second wife, Franciszka Jakubowska. Our father’s ancestors had lived in this area of Poland from at least the early 1800s.


Genealogical research done in Poland in 2020 found church records in Leoncin to confirm that Jan and Franciszka were married in 1891 and they had four children. Marianna (b.1891) was the first born, but she died as an infant. She was followed by Hipolit (b.1892), Walenty (b.1895), and lastly, Fortunat (b.1900).

The eldest brother, whose name was Hipolit, lived about 17 miles northeast of Warsaw in the small village of Zagrze, where he was the postmaster before the Second World War. Mother continued to correspond with him occasionally until his death.  He died about 1963 in Nowy Dwor, Poland. Our father was the youngest of the three Krol brothers.

We heard the story of a brother named Stefan. The last family communication with him came from Odessa in Russia, which is now a part of Ukraine. All contact with him was lost after 1922. However, there is no record of a Stefan being born to Jan and Franciszka Krol at the Leoncin church. It is possible that Walenty went by the name of Stefan, but this is not certain and so Stefan remains a mystery to us.

At the time of Father’s birth, Poland had been partitioned by Russia, Germany and Austria for over one hundred years.  Piaski Krolewskie was situated in the area of Poland that had been annexed by Russia. And so, the school Father attended was taught in the Russian language.  At the end of World War I, when Poland fought to regain independence, Father joined the Polish Army that was formed at that time.  He took part in Poland’s war with Bolshevik Russia. At the end of the World War I, national borders in eastern Europe were very unsettled. Poland first fought with Ukraine and later fought back Bolshevik Russia and Lithuania from 1919 until mid-October of 1920 in the struggle to determine the contested borders. Some areas changed hands several times during that period. Finally, contentious truce negotiations that were held in Riga, Latvia led to a peace treaty, which was not signed until March 18, 1921. Poland was satisfied with its new borders. Nevertheless, post-World War I Poland was only a fraction of the size of the Polish Commonwealth that existed prior to the three partitions of Poland that occurred between 1772 and 1795. The peace treaty negotiated in Riga in 1921 would last for only 18 years. 

On October 12, 1920, the Polish army had reached Iwieniec, about fifteen miles west of Rakow, and the border was to run between those two towns. Rakow was to remain on the Russian side. Our family’s fate would have been quite different, if it was not for a delegation of Poles from Rakow who traveled to Iwieniec to plead with the Polish army to send some units to take Rakow from the Russians. Luckily, a company of Polish cavalry was dispatched and after some fighting, Rakow was in Polish hands.

Rakow was a village of about 5000 people before the 2nd World War and it had a sizeable Polish population.  Rakow was originally settled in the 14th Century. Ethnic Polish families populated Rakow beginning in the 16th and 17th centuries. There were many towns like this in the border frontier when Poland, in union with Lithuania, occupied areas from the Baltic to the Black Sea. This region included Smolensk, Kiev, and many other large Russian and Ukrainian cities. When Poland was partitioned in the late 1700’s, each of the three occupiers tried to erase any Polish influence and sought to engender the local population with an antagonism to the area’s Polish heritage. Rakow remained a predominantly Polish town within the Russian partition, although many other villages in the region were not particularly fond of Poland.  The population in these borderlands was mostly Belorussian with a significant Jewish population, particularly within the villages.


Our mother’s family’s roots extend to the original Polish settlers of Rakow and they felt a strong sense of Polish heritage.  Our mother, Katarzyna Stanislawa Kosowicz was born on November 29, 1907 in Rakow. However, at that time Rakow was still annexed to Russia. She was the first-born child of Stanislaw Kosowicz and Anna Lukaszewicz.  Her father was the youngest member of a well-established and respected family in Rakow. Our great-grandparents’ graves can still be found today in Rakow’s cemetery. (Frank Kosowicz visited Rakow in the 1990s and provided me with a video of their grave site.)


There are many relatives alive today from our mother’s family. Frank and Tuniek Kosowicz lived in California before they passed. They were the sons of our grandfather’s older brother. Frank Kosowicz had visited the area of former Poland, where I grew up, more than once because he was the Chairman of a Relief Committee for Poles in the former USSR. 

Many of our cousins still live in Poland. They are the children of our mother’s sisters and brother. Wiesia, the daughter of our Aunt Andzia lives in Szczecin. Tadek, Ania, Bolek, Jurek, Moariola and Ela are the children of Mother’s brother, Franek. (Tadek died, but Tadek’s wife and son live in Trzcianka; Tadek’s daughter Aleksandra moved to work in England and married an Englishman. Linda and John visited with them in 2012.)  Most of Uncle Franek’s children except Jurek live in Trzcianka or nearby. Our mother’s youngest sister was Bronia. Her children are Danka and Bogdan. Danka Nowak lives in Sanok and Bogdan Kasprowicz lives in Zielona Gora. Naturally, our cousins have their own families and many children.  Rafal Nowak, Danka’s son, visited us in 1998 and in 2000. He is the only one of our relatives in Poland who has done so.

We also have some relatives in Trzcianka from our grandmother’s side of the family, but since we are not in touch with them, we would not be able to list them all.


In recent years, John came upon a Kossowicz Family Website that is hosted on This family website is managed by Alfreda Kossowicz and it includes a family tree with thousands of individuals that can trace their ancestry back to Wincenty Kossowicz of Rakow, who was born in 1785. Our cousin Wiesia has offered an explanation as to the variation in the spelling of Kosowicz vs. Kossowicz. Wiesia said that Kosowicz was the original spelling, but it was also associated the Orthodox Church in Rakow. Most of our family members added the second “s” to distinguish themselves as being Roman Catholic.


Getting back to our roots . . .  After the hostilities on Poland’s eastern border stopped at the end of 1920, our father decided to stay in the Polish army. He was over 20 years old and had no trade or profession except as a soldier.  He was stationed in Rakow with a border patrol unit of the Polish Army.   There was a lot of trouble at Poland’s new eastern frontier. Smugglers, deserters, and bandits often roamed that area, crossing the border, robbing, smuggling and fighting with the police.  Soldiers guarding the border were often involved in shooting incidents with those elements. Our father was wounded in one of those skirmishes along the border. (There is a novel about what went on in those days in Rakow called The Lover of the Great Bear by Sergiusz Piasetski.)

Our father, a sergeant in a Polish border unit met a local girl of Rakow - our mother. They were married on the second day of Christmas in 1928. In their wedding portrait on the following page, note that Father is wearing an “Ulan” saber. On the blade was engraved the phrase “Honor i Ojczyzna”, or “Honor and Fatherland”. They lived in our grandparents’ house in Rakow.  I was born on November 8, 1929.  Our grandmother had a business, which employed several girls in dressmaking. One of her seamstresses was Ciocia (Aunt) Morek.  Our grandfather had a small farm and also made various sausages or meats for cold cuts and smoked them in his own smokehouse.

                          Early Memories

My first recollections are when I was about 3 years old or so, before my sister Danka was born. Our father was transferred to Iwieniec, where a larger border guard unit was stationed. The Army provided a truck to transport our family from Rakow to Iwieniec. This was a new and different experience for me. I remember being scared and fascinated by this roaring monster that I was loaded on to.  I remember the loud noise to which I was not accustomed, since Rakow was a horse and buggy town, and no one owned a motorized vehicle.

The next event that I recall is the night that my sister was born. I remember being sent to sleep at my Aunt Andzia’s apartment. I was told that when I got back home, I might have a baby brother or sister to great me.  I don’t recall if I was pleased about that or not. Danusia was born on August 13, 1933 in Iwieniec.


My recollections of Iwieniec are very fragmented. I remember a Christmas party at the army post hall and being excited about Santa and the presents. I was very disappointed when I did not receive what I wanted, which I think was a rocking horse. I remember being spanked when I did not stop my crying about the rocking horse. I must have been four years old that Christmas. I remember sledding down a hill, breaking the sled, and being afraid that I would be spanked for the mishap. I remember an unemployed man coming to the place where we lived and asking for any kind of work, or something to eat. He was chopping wood and later, he was eating in our kitchen. There was a river that ran through Iwieniec with a bridge that crossed it. We played under the bridge. There was an Orthodox church not too far from the river, but we did not attend that church, which was used by the local people. The army or border guards and their families attended a Roman Catholic church, a little farther away from the center of the town.


Life at the Border Posts


I was over five years old, when my father was transferred to the hamlet of Baturyn, near a small town of Chocienczyce, about 24 miles north of Rakow.  I remember that my parents discussed whether I would be able to communicate with the local children there because the people in Baturyn were mostly Belorussian. Not many of them spoke Polish. This time our relocation was accomplished by horse and buggy, since the roads in that area were only used by local farmers and weren’t suitable for transport by more than carts. Baturyn was a new border post located in the hamlet of the same name. The Polish-Russian border was visible from a church there and also from the new Baturyn border post building (straznica).

When we arrived in Baturyn, the post was still under construction, and our family had to rent an apartment from one of the local farmers. I remember what seemed to me, a large house. The farmer’s family lived in one part of it and we had two or three rooms. We shared a kitchen. There was a large orchard, from which I remember picking apples and cherries. Naturally, there were no bathrooms in those houses. For our needs, we had to use an outhouse. Bathing was done in a banya, a Russian style of sauna or steam bath, which weren’t present on all farms. We had to go to another farmer’s home when we needed a traditional bath. That was every other week, if I remember correctly. We stayed in that rented apartment for about six months and then we moved into the border post building after it was completed.

A section of the new border post building was assigned to the non-commissioned officer’s family. However, most of the building was used to house the soldiers’ dormitory, kitchen, and the post’s storage of arms, supplies, and an office. The building had an observation tower from which a large section of the border could be under surveillance. Toilets and bathing facilities for the soldiers were in a separate structure, about 20 feet from the main building.

There were usually about 20 to 30 soldiers stationed at a post. They were part of the army units that were located about every five to six miles or so along the border. The soldiers were under the immediate command of a non-commissioned officer, usually a sergeant like my father. The company commander was located at a larger outpost and was in charge of several of the border posts. This officer visited the individual posts periodically, usually every few weeks. Between the officer’s visits, the sergeant had a lot of discretion and authority over the post. If he was married, he had his family living with him at the post or nearby.  At the Baturyn post, we had a kitchen, a family room and a bedroom. We used the soldiers’ toilets and there was a separate one for our family’s use, but we still went to the local farmer’s banya for bathing.

Life along the Polish-Russian border at that time was pleasant. Our family represented the authority of the new order. In Baturyn, there was a one-room schoolhouse. After the area had become Polish territory again, a Polish teacher and a priest were assigned to the community. A Russian aristocrat, who still owned substantial acreage in the area, continued to live on his estate there. This aristocratic family, vestiges of earlier Russian rule, had a large mansion not too far from the church. There were stables, servants’ quarters, and several farm buildings. Although the area had become a part of Poland again, most people continued to  speak in Russian or Belorussian.  The first time that I was invited to this mansion to play with the nobleman’s son, he didn’t want to speak to me in Polish, although he had to know the language. He was a few years older than me, but he had been born in Poland. Their estate had been annexed to Poland since 1921, and it was now 1934. Overall, I had no trouble communicating with the local children. They had had a Polish schoolteacher for over ten years, and so they did learn to speak Polish.  


My parents became friends with the teacher and his wife. When I was nearly six years old, my parents decided to send me to the one-room schoolhouse. Normally, children in Poland did not start school until they were seven. There was a lot of commotion in a classroom where several grades were taught at distinct levels. The classroom included over two-dozen children from the age of seven to fifteen. Since the teacher couldn’t devote too much time just to me, I wasn’t learning to read quickly enough.  I was separated with three other students and we were placed in the teacher’s study room. There the teacher’s wife helped us with the schoolwork that her husband had assigned. I recall that we considered being separated from the rest of the group as a punishment for poorly performing students. This motivated us to work harder so that we could get out of this room and join the others. Our separation lasted about three or four months, and one by one we were allowed to rejoin the other group. For some reason, I was one of the last ones released.  Perhaps the teacher and my parents preferred it that way.

My life in Baturyn took a turn in 1935, when my parents decided to send me to a larger school located back in Rakow. After that, I only stayed with my parents during summer vacations. During the school year, I stayed with my grandparents and attended the school in Rakow, which had seven grade levels.  Since Rakow was a village of about 5000 people, there were many teachers, and some grades were large enough to be separated into two classrooms, unlike the hamlet of Baturyn, which had only about two dozen houses.


In Baturyn


I recall roaming through forests with the local kids in Baturyn, picking berries and playing different games. I also remember spending a lot of time at the parish where the Roman Catholic priest lived. I became an altar boy and I had my first Holy Communion there. The Baturyn church was an old wooden church built when there were a number of Catholics in the area. After Poland was partitioned in 1780’s, and Russia annexed that area, Russia tried and generally succeeded in forcing Roman Catholics to convert to the Russian Orthodox religion.  The church was converted to serve as their cerkiew [Russian for church]. When Poland regained the territory, they also regained the church. There were several Russian Orthodox priests that had been buried on the church grounds. I recall, one Sunday in 1935, during the Catholic mass, a Russian Orthodox priest and his parishioners dug up the remains of their deceased brethren and took them away for re-burial in Chocienczyce, where they retained their cerkiew. This reburial had been previously agreed upon between the two churches.

On many Sundays in summer, I remember seeing some old, but well-maintained Rolls-Royces, which belonged to area noblemen, parked in front of the church. It was really something of a spectacle not only for us kids but also for the adults. Our family’s lifestyle from what I can recall, was reasonably good relative to that of the local peasant population. Mother had a maid to cook, clean, wash clothing and take care of Danka and me.

One September day in 1935, while our maid was washing clothes (which was all done by hand, using boiling water, etc.), a tragedy almost happened.  The maid had left the clothes in a tub of hot boiling water on the steps outside the door. My baby sister, Danka, who was about two at the time, was playing around and somehow overturned the pail of that hot boiling water! Danka received second-degree burns on parts of her body. My mother and I were on the way to the woods to pick some mushrooms, and we were about a mile away when we suddenly heard and saw a soldier running after us, yelling something. We stopped and when he approached us, he told Mother what had happened. That was quite a scare and the aftereffects of that commotion lasted for a long time.


Poland’s Chief of State, Jozef Pilsudski, died in 1935 and most Poles felt a great loss with his passing.  That same year, the Russian aristocrat in Baturyn, while riding a horse between the church and his estate, was struck by lightning and was killed. I remember a big funeral, going to the cemetery, and watching people digging a grave within his family’s enclosed estate.

But life goes on and we continued in our daily routines. One of things that I looked forward to was picking mushrooms with my mother. We used to get up early and would walk through the forests along the border. We had our choice of the best picking areas since the border area was restricted and local residents were required to get special passes. That’s where my fondness and skill for gathering mushrooms originated. During our walks along the border, my mother, occasionally joined by my father, would point out Russian settlements on the other side of the border.

One of the places that fascinated me was the large estate of a Polish aristocrat. His mansion and estate were just across a small stream, now in Russia. No one was ever sure what happened to him and his family.   

In those days, I liked to climb up and inside the observation tower at the main building and look through binoculars into the Russian side of the border. A soldier that I recall, who was usually there, seemed to like my company.  I think that my visits broke the boredom for him at his lonely outpost. There were also individual or stand-alone observation towers along the border. Often, we visited the soldiers stationed there. Mother would call Father by telephone and inform him of our whereabouts and when we planned to be back.  Father wanted to be very aware of our location ever since the time when Mother was almost detained by a Russian border patrol.

That incident happened the previous summer when Mother was picking raspberries along the border by herself. At that time the border was only marked by posts, which were spaced a few hundred feet apart. Generally, you couldn’t see the other posts in a line, especially if there were trees or tall bushes blocking your view. Mother was happily picking the berries and had followed a bunch of bushes that were laden with berries when she suddenly heard horses. Thinking that maybe it was a Polish officer who was supposed to be in the area that day making his rounds, Mother did not want to be seen by him since she wasn’t properly dressed to greet an officer and was stained from eating berries as she picked. So, she hid among bushes and then she heard one Russian saying to the other, “I could have sworn that I saw someone around here." Mother understood Russian well since she had attended a Russian school.  After looking around some more, the Russian soldiers left. Mother slowly started moving back and then she spotted the border posts and realized that she was about a hundred feet inside Russia! 

There were several instances of unintentional border crossings by people or animals and it could take several months before an exchange was made, after one side or the other was finally satisfied that the violation had been unintentional. Mother had been fortunate. In 1936 and 1937, a long fence of barbed wire was placed along the border and the unintentional crossings were reduced, if not eliminated.


As I mentioned, I was sent to live with my grandparents in Rakow during 1935 in order to attend school there. My grandmother doted on me.  I must have been her favorite at that time. I had the most fashionable children’s clothing around and most of what I wanted I got from her. I was allowed to sleep in her bed, while grandfather slept in a separate bed. Perhaps they felt guilty for what, I was told, happened to me when I was in their care years before. Apparently, when I was about two, they were baby-sitting me and I was climbing all over. Somehow, I climbed through an open window and fell down onto my grandfather’s plow, which was parked below. There was a lot of blood and everyone was scared that I had suffered some serious injury to my skull or other part of my body.

That September, I had to start in the first grade, again. The school in Rakow was over two miles away from my grandparent’s house and I had to walk there every day. During the winter, when the weather was particularly bad, parents or guardians from nearby took turns transporting about half a dozen kids to our school by a horse-drawn sled. On nice days, we walked, even during the cold of winter. I usually walked with the older kids, and with my relatives who lived nearby. My grandfather’s sister and her husband had a store a few hundred feet from us and they had a son and a daughter. Their name was Tundera. I often went to their store for candy, naturally. I played with their son, Heniek, and walked to school with Heniek and his sister.  We were always arguing about which way to go to school, along the river, through the center of town, or by the Jewish cemetery. Rakow had a large percentage of Jewish residents. In fact, a Jewish genealogy website reports that around the year 1900, over 50% of Rakow’s population was Jewish. Our grandparent’s next-door neighbors were Jews. I played with their two sons, but I don’t recall them going to the same school that I did.  I know there was a Jewish school next to the synagogue in the center of town.

Our school was on one end of the town and my grandparent’s house was on the other end.  In the center of town, there were a number of stores and other businesses. Probably over 90% of the trade in Rakow occurred through Jewish merchants. They traded with farmers from the surrounding area, bought their crops, farm produce, live animals etc., and sold them manufactured goods, which they had shipped from larger cities or directly from Warsaw or Gdynia. They had a self- help association and supported each other. I do not recall any great hostility between the Jewish and Polish people in Rakow until about 1939.  That is when fascist Germany’s Jew-hating propaganda machine started to show some impact in Poland. Kids did try to have some fun at the Jews’ expense, like trying to scare them during their holidays such as Yom Kippur or laughing when we saw Christian women hired to cry at the Jewish funerals. But generally, I was not aware of outright hostility shown or committed to the majority Jewish population in Rakow by the Polish or Belarus ethnic minorities.

Life with my grandparents during the school year was very pleasant, but I did look forward to spending summer days with my parents. My brother George was born on June 6, 1936. Soon afterwards, my grandfather took me back to Baturyn.  Mother did not feel well late in her pregnancy, and she delivered George in a hospital in Wilno, instead of at home with the midwife. Naturally, the issue with Mother’s health wasn’t discussed with me, but I was aware of a problem since she didn’t want to go to the forest to pick berries or mushrooms with me that summer.

Still, I did have a good time with the local kids and if I remember correctly, our Aunt Bronia spent that summer of 1936 with us to help Mother and to help take care of Danka, George and myself.  That was my last summer in Baturyn. Early the next year, Father was deployed to a different border post, although it wasn’t too far from Baturyn.  The new post was called Zalesie and it was within a half-hour’s walk from Chocienczyce. Baturyn was about four- or five-times farther away.  More about Zalesie later.

My next school years were spent in Rakow. I still stayed in my grandparent’s house, but with a change. I now started to live with my aunt Andzia and her husband. My uncle Felicks had retired from the army and moved back to Rakow from Iwieniec. They had an apartment in my grandparent’s house. They had a daughter Wiesia, who was born a year after Dan


About this time, my grandfather got me a dog.  He was quite a little thing, but he did meet with misfortune. He was tied up near the side door, and there was a basement window nearby. Actually, it was a window to a cold storage room in the basement where all kinds of farm products that needed cool temperatures were stored. Normally that window was closed, but for some reason, it was opened at the time of a thunderstorm and this little dog was so scared of the thunder that he tried to hide and he chose that opened window for shelter with disastrous consequences for him. By going through that window, he dropped toward the basement floor and, still tied up, ended up in hanging himself. I was very upset about it, so Grandfather got me another dog soon afterwards, but that one also did not last very long. It got an infection and died within six months. I felt that I didn’t  have much luck with dogs, so I didn’t insist on getting another one.

I had a lot of chores to do at my grandparent’s house. One of my chores was to climb into the barn’s loft and pick all the eggs from the chicken nests. They liked to lay their eggs there, since no one disturbed them. I also had to feed several rabbits, and Grandfather also assigned me to water his horse when he was too busy or was working in the fields.

The house we lived in was about a half a mile from a small river called Islocz, which flowed through Rakow. The house was large, and next to it was an animal barn where there were two or three cows, a horse, some pigs, chickens, ducks and geese. There was a vegetable garden on the side of the house next to our Jewish neighbors. Behind the animal barn, for about three hundred feet, there were fields where we grew potatoes and sometimes other crops. Then, there was another barn where different crops like wheat, hay, and animal feed were stored. Beyond the barn, for about five or six hundred feet down the hill, there were more cultivated fields up to the banks of the river.  Grandfather owned other fields within a few miles of the house but most of the several parcels he owned were small, two or three acres here, two or three acres there, and so on. Although I would go with Grandfather to the various fields he owned to help him gather hay or other crops, most of my life in Rakow was spent between the house, the barns, and the river. Proximity to a larger school was the main reason that I was living in Rakow, but Rakow also gave me the chance to have fun with many boys from the school, the neighbor’s children, as well as a few younger relatives from our extended family.


Rakow in 1938


During summer, we would fish or swim in the river. I pretended that I could also swim by moving along the water in parts of the river that were shallow enough that I could push myself along with one of my feet.  But there were parts of the river that were quite deep, especially near the watermills. There were at least three mills in Rakow. One mill was near the school that we walked by every day during the school year. The second one was close to the center of town, not far where Franek Kosowicz and his family lived, and the third mill, was about a mile down the river from my grandfather’s house. The mills were constructed with a wooden bridge and a dam across the river. The dam was partly a wooden bridge and between the posts that supporting the bridge, there were wooden gates that when lowered, formed a dam creating a water level difference of several feet. That differential was enough to turn the mill wheels that were used to grind various grains for farmers from the area. The grinding wheels were enclosed within the mill house. 

On one occasion, while swimming with other boys behind the mill closest to my grandfather’s house, my trick of pretending that I am swimming did not work. The water at one point became too deep and I started to drown. I remember other boys laughing, but after some time while I was under water, one of my cousins who was a few years older, realized that I was in trouble and saved me from drowning. From that time on, I was much more careful while “swimming.” The relative who saved me was a son of my grandmother’s sister. I did get into trouble once because of that same cousin. Once, while visiting my grandmother, he played with me in my uncle’s apartment. At some point I showed him my cousin Wiesia’s piggy bank and apparently some money disappeared from it. I was blamed for the disappearance and got a spanking from my uncle. I guess by saving my life he paid me back with interest for the spanking I got for his likely misdeed.

I remember another mishap I had while taking a horse to the river to water him. Some bee or other insect must have stung the horse because it started galloping with me on top of him. Not surprisingly, the horse’s sudden gallop threw me to the ground. My grandfather had seen this happen was really concerned that I was hurt. Normally that horse was very safe to ride, but on that one occasion, something went wrong and afterwards I wasn’t allowed to ride him again. After that my only option was to walk him to the river for water.

I was not a top student at school, but my grades were good enough to let me pass from one year to the next. During the spring of 1937, our school organized a trip to Wilno. Although I was only about eight at that time, my parents paid for my trip with the school group. This was my first journey beyond the border area and I recall it quite vividly. We traveled by horse and buggy to the nearest train station, Olechnowicze, which was about 10 miles away, and then I saw my first train.  It was huge and a bit frightening to an eight-year-old boy.  There were about fifty of us traveling together and most of the children were over ten years old. I had to have special permission to go and one of the teachers going with us kept a close eye on me. The train ride was fascinating. We traveled through many towns. The first larger town was Molodeczno. I don’t remember how many hours we were on that train, but I do remember that we left Rakow in the morning and when we finally arrived in Wilno, it had started to get dark. I remember the lights of the big city and all the houses and buildings with electric lights. This was a far cry from Rakow, where only a few buildings had electricity provided by a generator located at a wood mill. When we pulled into the Wilno train station a stream of wonders struck me for the first time. I was amazed by the number of people, lights, shops, and sights that I had never seen before.  We were housed in a hostel, which was run by a religious order, four kids to a room. The next day we were taken on a walk through the downtown where I saw more wonders, including large department stores. One store had revolving doors! Some years later, they were removed by the Russians and shipped east. We were taken on a cruise down the river Villa, which flows through Wilno, and that again was a new experience. 

Our student excursion involved walks through many churches. I remember how large they were compared to those that I knew, but the most unforgettable church was called the Ostra Brama. It is a chapel rather than a church, but it is known as a miraculous place based on legend and literature citing the many healings that occurred there. After all these years, I still have a vivid memory of Ostra Brama (which translates, Sharp Gate). It was once a fortified gate within the walls that surrounded medieval Wilno. When I visited Wilno again 61 years later, the Ostra Brama was the same, but the intervening years had made it seem a bit less impressive, and a bit smaller, than I remembered as a young boy.

Wilno had always been a Lithuanian city, but because of Lithuania’s union with Poland in the 16th Century, over time Wilno had become as much a Polish as a Lithuanian city. The population of Wilno was predominantly Polish before 1940, and even now, about 20 to 30% of the population is Polish or of Polish descent. The common history is evident everywhere, although Lithuania is now doing a good job of erasing the memory of Polish heritage and culture from the area. Many prominent men who were born in that area considered themselves to be Poles. These include the famous poets Mickiewicz and Slowacki, as well as Pilsudski and others. Pilsudski was a patriot and a founding father of modern Poland after the First World War. Before he died, he requested to have his heart buried with the body of his mother in Wilno. I saw that grave in 1937 and then again in 1998. While we were in Wilno in 1937, my mother was also there, as a patient in a military hospital. My guardian was supposed to take me to see my mother, but the student tour events that had been scheduled didn’t allow for such a visit. Mother had complications after George’s birth, which resulted an extended stay for her at the hospital. As an eight-year-old, I was not told or aware of what was wrong or its severity.

I spent the summer vacation of 1937 at my father’s new border post in Zalesie. This was a secluded location, a good distance from any village. The closest hamlet was Chocienczyce. Our house was a few hundred feet from the border post. I had no one to play with except Danka, who was now about four, and George was just a year old. I don’t recall liking that place or that anything significant happened there, but it was different.  One thing that I do remember was that even my parents felt some isolation in Zalesie. Dad once met some fellow non-commissioned officers in Chocienczyce to play cards and have a few drinks. Mother was very upset when he did not show up before dark.  She left us with a maid and then walked by herself all the way to the hamlet to bring our father back home. I think they had quite a fight about him being out so long with the boys. This incident, in and of itself, says a good deal about our mother’s will and of her single-minded determination. Some might call it “a controlling personality.”

That’s why the next year, my parents and siblings came to spend their vacation time in Rakow with me instead of that isolated location. Some pictures from that year’s (1938) summer vacation are displayed on preceding pages. Life went on as usual for the rest of the school year but did include some additional activities for me. I joined the cub scouts, served as an altar boy at masses in the Rakow church, and took part in more youth group activities.

I should say a few words about our Christmas and Easter holiday traditions. These two holidays were celebrated in Rakow very lavishly. Mine were spent with my aunt, uncle, and my grandparents. At Christmas, my grandparents set up a long table in the biggest room in the house. The traditional twelve dishes were served with hay under the tablecloth, oplatek, and all the rest. For me and my cousin Wiesia, the appearance of Santa was the main event. Usually my uncle or another relative played Santa.  After Wigilia, as the Christmas Eve supper is called, teenagers and younger adults dressed up and went caroling from house to house until midnight, and then they went or rode on sleds to midnight mass at the church. The kids had fun the next day when we went from house to house singing carols and asking for gifts. We were well stocked with candy and coins. Winter was hard, but we did have some fun when the weather became tolerable. We skied, skated on the river, and rode sleds down the hill. Of course, most of the skis, sleds, and skates that the kids had were homemade items, nothing like what is available to us now.

Easter was even a bigger holiday event than Christmas. I remember our grandmother baking and cooking for weeks ahead of the holiday. There was a lot of activity around the church during Holy Week. On Holy Thursday, we were awakened before sunrise to get down on our knees and to join in a prayer that was meant to recall Christ’s crucifixion. The prayer was in the form of a litany. Fortunately, the litany was not a long one, as it was usually a struggle for a young boy to stay awake before dawn.

Christ’s gravesite was fashioned and on display in the back of the church while soldiers, boy scouts, and girl scouts guarded it for three days. Soldiers were there for 24 hours a day with bayonets on their rifles, changing every hour, while scouts, changed every half-hour. The church was open continuously and was often half-full of people, even during the night. People would come to pray for an hour or so. On Easter Sunday the church was packed for the early morning Resurrection Mass, and for the later masses as well. Our family attended an early mass and then had a big breakfast that lasted several hours. Traditionally, we first shared bread, eggs, sausage, and salt that had been blessed in the church on Holy Saturday. We all wished each other health and happiness, much like we did before the Christmas Eve supper when we shared oplatek.  After that, there was all that food: hams, sausages, zimne nogi, baked goods, etc. that had to be eaten, or at least sampled.

After the Easter meal, weather allowing, children enjoyed various Easter egg contests with the purpose of “winning” eggs from other children. These might include an Easter egg roll outdoors, cracking eggs together, and other games. If your egg rolled the farthest distance you picked up all the eggs behind yours. Sometimes we made it harder to win. Your egg had to bump into someone else’s egg and then it was yours.  The strategy of the egg cracking contest was to pick the egg, which you thought was the strongest, usually by tapping the egg on your front teeth first, and then trying to crack the tip of your opponent's egg. The child with an uncracked egg “won” and was entitled to take their opponent’s cracked egg. The luckier kids could sometimes end up with hundreds of eggs. The eggs were hard-boiled and colored. Most of the eggs were colored by boiling them in a mixture of water, vinegar, and onion skins. Sometimes they were colored in various shades or even decorated with designs, like pisanki.  Nicely decorated eggs were left on the Easter table. I am not sure what happened to all those eggs. Some ended up in an egg salad but most were probably used for animal feed.

The second day of Easter, or Easter Monday was also celebrated with more eating, visiting other branches of the family and friends.  For school children there was another custom on that day. We would go from house to house, mostly to people we knew or relatives, and beg for coins for “poor” students. Usually, we ended up with a nice bit of change that lasted for a month or so as our pocket money. There was another custom on that day, which was called Dingus Day. The custom on this day was for boys to pour some water on girls that they encountered outdoors. Special targets would include the girl or girls that a boy might like. Usually, a boy would hide behind a door or a bush and when a girl walked by, she got splashed with water from a bucket or a bottle. The boy yelled “Dingus Smingus” and that was acceptable, but not always appreciated by the girls. Often, the girls tried to do the same to the boys. More affluent boys used perfume or scented water for the purpose. Usually it was all taken as fun, but sometimes girls got mad when they got splashed too much. Even some adults or married couples engaged in this custom, but naturally with much more refinement and tact.

While I lived in Rakow with my uncle and grandparents, I didn’t spend the holidays with my parents, since it wasn’t easy to travel between different locales, especially during the Christmas and Easter holidays when weather was a factor to consider. Although the distances were not that great, the dirt roads weren’t very suitable for travel during the winter or early spring.

War Begins


In 1938, our parents bought a house in Molodeczno. Father was planning to retire from the army in a few years, when he reached 20 years of enlisted service. They chose Molodeczno because it was a larger town, not too far from Rakow (about 30 miles). Molodeczno served as a county seat and a focal crossroad of two railroad lines. Importantly, it had a high school for us to attend when the time came. There was no high school in Rakow. At that time children, especially those from the smaller villages, weren’t expected to attend high school even if one was nearby. Education was a priority for our mother. Among its other benefits, she recognized and valued education as a route to upward mobility, both social and economic.

The purchase of the house in Molodeczno was somewhat complicated. At some point the seller wanted to back off from the deal and didn’t want to demolish part of a dilapidated barn as had been negotiated.  Our parents had to take him to court. The house had three apartments that were rented. It also had a masonry addition that was used as a meat shop and it too was rented.

The price of the property was about 8000 zloty, which was a sizable sum of money in those days.The sale was completed on March 9, 1938. It started out as a nice rental property for our parents. It was a rental property that we didn’t intend to live in until Father retired, which was also the time when I could go to high school, in about four years.


By 1939, I recall hearing more and more about a possible war with Germany. Germany completed the dismemberment of Czechoslovakia and started to make claims on Poland. Things were heating up.  Polish propaganda was taking a defensive stand. More troops were being conscripted and my Uncle Frank was called up to serve in the army. He was about twenty-two.  Meanwhile, school at Rakow progressed normally. I was more involved in various youth activities, being an altar boy and a scout, marching, and planting trees along roads and similar activities.  We played a version of baseball. One kid who was a little older than me explained that in America, playing baseball is a very serious sport and grown men play and are paid a lot of money for doing it, like soccer players are paid in Europe. It seemed so strange to me, that grown men could play baseball and be paid for it.

My Aunt Bronia, who had been away for high school in Konskie, returned to Rakow and tried to learn English because Grandma wanted her to go to America. She hoped to have Bronia emigrate to Rochester where our grandmother’s sister, Stefania, lived with her family. Stefania and her husband Franciszek Janczewski had emigrated to the US in 1909-10 and were well settled in Rochester by that time. 


Uncle Frank, who was now in the army, had a girlfriend in Rakow named Janka. I guess they were serious about their relationship, because whenever she hadn’t received a letter from him in a while, she made a point of meeting me on my way from school and pumped me for any news from Uncle Frank. I recall that Uncle Frank had a talent for drawing horses. I remember that he would sketch horses’ heads for George whenever our parents came to Rakow for a visit.

Frank and Janka were married during the War. They relocated to Trzcianka in western Poland with their children after the War rather than continue to live in Rakow, which along with most of eastern Poland had been annexed to Belarus.  Trzcianka had been a German village, which was annexed to Poland after WW II. Most of their surviving family now lives in and around Trzcianka.  


In early summer of 1939, Poland increased its mobilization of troops. Father was transferred to a post in a larger community, although I don’t remember its name. While they had to move from Zalesie, at least they wouldn’t be living in such a secluded location. Furthermore, I wasn’t going back to school in Rakow because there was a newly constructed school nearby, about three miles from Father’s new post. I was about to finally live with my family again.


The new border guard post was rented from one of the local farmers. Since this rented structure had not been built to the same specifications that other posts were constructed, we had to live in part of another farmer’s house, where space was rented for us. It was about a half-mile from the post. I remember that the move was a long drive from Zalesie, particularly long since it by horse-drawn wagon and not by automobile. We settled in that rental unit, which was part of a large house. In addition to the two rooms that we occupied, there was the farmer’s family, and also the family of the previous non- commissioned officer (NCO) who had been in charge of the border post before our father took over. But, as I learned later, that previous NCO was in a Polish prison, charged with spying for the Russians.

There were a few other buildings on the farmer’s property and also an apple orchard. We were told not to pick apples from the trees since the orchard’s crop was sold in spring to a fruit wholesaler. We could only pick the apples that had already fallen to the ground. I made some friends with the boys from the village as well as with the son of the jailed NCO. He was a few years older than me, but he did not seem to mind being around me and we often played together.

There were about twenty soldiers on that post, but they were all older reserve soldiers, called up to the army because the younger soldiers were transferred to regular army units that had been mobilized to face the ominous German attack. Father was not transferred then because he was already nearly forty, and someone with border duty experience was needed to stay behind to supervise the assigned reserves.

It must have been August when we settled in the new place, because school started soon after the move. I walked to the school with other boys and my mother asked the boy who lived in the same house to look after me on the way to and from school.  It was another new experience for me. The walk was longer than I had in Rakow, but the school was only a few years old and was very nice.

At about the same time that school started for me, Germany attacked Poland. That was on the 1st day of September 1939.  I knew that the war was not going well for Poland by our parents’ mood, and by what I overheard when they spoke with each other. By the second week after the initial attack, we were getting very little news. There were no papers. Radio was no longer providing regular news reports.  The only news we received were telephone reports from the border patrol’s regional headquarters, which gave us a sign that German troops were advancing on Polish soil. No one believed that the troops stationed on the eastern border could have any influence on what was happening in the west.

My school days continued without much change. Mother started to purchase more quantities of sugar, soap and other staples, since everyone was trying to stock up on products that were produced in cities, which were now under German control. We weren’t thinking about the Russians. Although we knew about the German-Russian pact, people assumed that Russia would give Germany a free hand in Poland. We were glad that England and France had declared war on Germany, and we were hoping that their forces would soon force Germany to ease up on the Polish front. But, no major Allied push on the western front was materializing.  

My father had been spending a lot of time on the post, since the reservists now stationed there needed a good measure of discipline.  These reservists liked to take it easy. When they were sent to patrol the border, they often would find a nice spot among the trees to rest or to take a nap. Father had to go out at night to check if the soldiers were at the locations where they were assigned to be. Early in the morning of September 17th, Father had just returned from checking the border posts about four in the morning. I awoke because Father was very mad and was speaking very loudly with Mother. He had found some soldiers sleeping under a tree again, instead of patrolling the border. This time he said, he was going to report them to his commanding officer.

Not more than half an hour passed before Father went to bed. I was trying to go back to sleep when we heard loud knocking at the window. Mother was also not asleep. She put on a robe and opened the window curtain. A man in an excited but subdued voice started telling Mother that Russians had crossed the border, which was only a mile away, and they were already within the village. Moments later, shooting erupted all around us. Mother wasn’t able to wake up our father. He was in a deep sleep and it took her several minutes to wake him up, even though the rifle shots around us were deafening. A second soldier came to the door and started pounding on it to let him in. Father dressed hurriedly and was going back to the post, but the soldier shouted that the Russians had surrounded the post and there was no way they could go back. Mother dressed George and herself and helped Danka. I was already dressed. The adults were trying to decide what to do next, considering it best to get away from the house, to the nearby forest. But by that time, Russian troops had surrounded our house and were already breaking in. I saw several Russian soldiers pointing rifles through our windows and I remember that one of the guns was aimed at George. Mother grabbed George, although it could have provoked the soldier. Luckily, he did not fire.

Father, the Polish soldier, and the rest of us all had our hands up as the Russians commanded us into the kitchen. Father and the soldier were led outside. Mother was crying and tried to say good-by to Father, but they would not let her. The Russians went through the house searching for anyone in hiding as well as for weapons.  After ten minutes, they left with Father and the soldier.

Shooting could still be heard in the distance and we weren’t sure if the soldiers at the post were resisting the Russians or not. Within an hour the gunfire had quieted down. Later some of the villagers told us that the Polish soldiers were so surprised by the attack that no one really put up a big fight. A few shots were fired in the direction of Russian fire, but it was still dark and nearly no one, not even the Russians, knew what they were firing at. None of the Polish soldiers were killed, although one or two were slightly wounded. One Russian was killed by their own fire.

About a dozen bullets flew through the house we lived in, but no one was hurt. The border post had hundreds of bullet holes in it and all the windows and doors were broken.  After about three hours, the Russians tied up all the Polish soldiers, including Father. They commandeered one farmer with a horse and cart to retrieve the body of the dead Russian, and then they left the village. It was not a very important post, not located on a road to anyplace significant, so they did not bother to stay. However, they did appoint some local people who were Russian- sympathizers to keep order in the area. This was another village that was principally inhabited by Belarussians, and they did not expect any problems from them.

We heard some more shooting in the distance, which probably came from other border posts that were putting up more of a resistance. But that resistance was useless. How could a dozen or two older reservists put up much of a fight against two companies or more of young soldiers?

During that time, it was distressing for Polish families who lived in the areas with a Belorussian majority. We heard that in some villages or on some farms, the local populace murdered and robbed Polish families, especially if they were rich or “kulaks” as they called them. They also targeted more recent Polish settlers, veterans of the war with Russia in 1919-1920, who were awarded a land area for their service to Poland.  Although some murders happened in Belorussia, they were more common in the area of the Ukraine, which had been a part of pre-War Poland.

With Father taken away to a prisoner-of-war camp somewhere in Russia, and the Republic of Poland once again partitioned between two old enemies, we were left stranded in a village where we didn’t know anyone, and where there was no way to get in touch with our family in Rakow. We had to wait until the Russians introduced some means of communicating within the area, which they had promptly annexed into their Belorussian Republic. There would be no more army pay. Luckily, our mother had saved some currency, which was still circulating in the area. Then again, she was a woman who tried to keep her family prepared for any eventuality.

The Polish administrative structure was the first to be dismantled, and even the post offices were not reopened. The Russians removed people in any kind of an authority position and then put their own people in charge.

The grief of witnessing his father’s arrest and departure wasn’t enough to prevent a 10-year-old boy from joining other kids in exploring what had happened at the border post station and around it. My curiosity was too great, and Mother had too many problems to consider, to allow her to spend much time keeping track of me. So, we roamed around the perimeter of the border post, finding quantities of ammunition laying around, including unexploded grenades. We were so reckless that we would throw stones at the grenades hoping that they would explode. We saw the spot where the Russian soldier had been killed. It was about two hundred feet from the post’s perimeter wire fence. Some local Russian sympathizers had placed flowers on the spot. Although there were signs posted prohibiting entry to the vacant army post, children’s curiosity, mine included, took the better of us. We roamed through the soldiers’ sleeping area, the dining hall, Father's office, and the emptied arms room. The Russians had looted anything of value, including soldiers’ private property, and the entire post was left a wreck.

A few days after the Russians had taken Father away, Mother found his revolver on a windowsill behind the curtain. The Russians had missed it going through our rooms, so our mother asked me and the son of the previous commander of the post to dig a hole someplace in the fields and bury it. She didn’t want the farmer or anyone else to know about it. She was even afraid that the former commander’s son might eventually tell someone in the new authority. 

People in the village began to display their pro-Russia sentiment more and more freely. About ten days after the Russian invasion, limited travel was allowed in the area and we had two very welcome visitors from Rakow. Since our grandparents were worried about us, they sent our cousin Tuniek Kosowicz, and I think Aunt Bronia, to try and find out what happened to us.

The Rakow area had witnessed a greater battle at that border post. A larger number of Polish soldiers had been stationed there, and several lost their lives. Russian troops were then garrisoned in Rakow, about two hundred of them. Tuniek and Bronia arrived on bicycles. Considering our dire situation, the only thing for us to do was relocate to Rakow. Mother got permission from a new local village leader to move back to Rakow. She rented about four carts including farmers with their horses, to load our household possessions for transport to our grandparents’ house. Since there wasn’t enough money to pay them all, she had to sell or barter some of our possessions to pay for the farmers’ services. Tuniek and Bronia rode back with us. They were very helpful to Mother by keeping an eye on our things so that they would not slowly disappear along the way. The journey back to Rakow took about two days. We rested along the way for the night. Russian troops stopped us a few times. But, since Mother and the farmers spoke Russian, their explanation proved to be enough to let us continue to Rakow.

Copyright: Krol family


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