Walentyna (Misiewicz) RYSZKOWSKA
German forced labour + Polish 2nd Corps
Walentyna came from a family of settlers, who were veterans of the Polish Army who had taken part in the Battle of Warsaw on 7 August 1920. They were given land in the Kresy to create the so-called ‘exemplary farms’. The cost of the land was to be repaid to the state five years after the start of the program in the spring of 1921.
Walentyna lived in the village of Niemilja, Wołyń province, with her parents (Felicjan and Florentyna (nee Bronowicka) and four sisters (Maria, Zofia, Alina and Danuta). Her parents had a mill and a large farm, which they ran efficiently by working hard themselves and employing a few farmhands.
Her ambition was to study Agronomy in order to help her father run their farm. The family had a happy and comfortable life, and lived in harmony with their multi-ethnic neighbours. When Poland was invaded by the Germans on 1 September 1939 and then by the Russians on 17 September 1939, their future became uncertain. The Russians began carrying out mass deportations of Poles to Siberia, and the Germans began deporting people for forced labour to Germany. The family continued living under occupation wondering what would happen to them.
Around March/April 1943 rumours reached their village that Ukrainian nationalists were attacking Polish villages and committing atrocities on Polish civilians, as well as on Ukrainians who would not collaborate with them or were married to Poles. This was initially considered as Soviet propaganda and therefore not taken too seriously.
Walentyna described a disturbing dream she had around that time. She dreamt that, as she was returning home after visiting someone in a nearby village, she could see smoke rising from her village and could hear people screaming in terror. Overcome by fear she plunged into the cold water of a nearby river and hid herself under a bridge, emerging from her hiding place in the morning. The dream was very realistic and Walentyna woke up in a terrible state. She was relieved that it was only a dream, although she was haunted by it for the rest of the day. She did not realise the significance of her dream until the following day, 25 May 1943, when she was returning home in the early evening, having spent the day at her cousin’s house in a neighbouring village. As she approached Niemilja, she could see smoke rising high into the sky and could hear people screaming and wailing. The situation was like a replay of her dream as she jumped into the River Słucz, which flowed through her village, and hid herself in the cold water under a bridge. She spent the whole night there trembling from fear and cold until the early hours of the morning. When she carefully emerged from her hiding place and made her way to her village, she found her father and her sister Maria dead; her other sister Zofia was barely alive and died later, and the village had been burnt to the ground. Her mother had managed to survive the massacre with the two youngest daughters, 7-year-old Alina and 1-year-old Danuta, by hiding in the nearby woods. The massacre took place in close proximity to a German garrison in Bystrzyce, without any reaction from the Germans. They eventually evacuated the few survivors to a makeshift camp.
The family and thousands of other Poles were then deported by the Germans to Tyrol in Austria for forced labour. Walentyna at 15 years old became the main breadwinner, because her mother had the young children to look after. Some days her mother would work and Walentyna would take care of the children. Eventually Alina started attending a German school and, being an intelligent child, soon picked up the language. In Austria the family was housed in a primitive wooden hut near Dorf Fellbach, between Linz and Spital, and Walentyna had to work hard in a paper factory and carry heavy rolls of paper up steep hills. Her mother had to work in a forest tree plants nursery.
The family and the other Poles were later transferred to Germany, but the country was soon occupied by the Allies and so they were then transported by the Americans to Italy. Here Walentyna enlisted with the Polish Women’s Auxiliary Army Service (PWSK), and started working in the No.3 Polish General Hospital in Palagiano, tending to Polish soldiers who had been wounded in the Battle of Monte Cassino. Her mother and sisters were now under Polish military protection and were housed in a DP Camp in Trani. Her sisters started attending school and life took on some form of normality.
In 1946 Walentyna was evacuated with the Polish Forces from Italy to the U.K. and housed in Iscoyd Park Camp, Shropshire, where she started working at the No.4 Polish Hospital. Her mother and sisters were evacuated separately with other military families and initially housed in Foxley DP Camp, near Hereford, where they were allowed to stay until 21 November 1946. They were then reunited with Walentyna in Iscoyd Park and were eventually housed in a Nissen hut in Tilstock Camp, Shropshire.
While living in Iscoyd Park, Walentyna met Władysław Ryszkowski, whom she married in August 1948 at St Mary’s Catholic Cathedral in Wrexham, North Wales. As a married couple, they were then housed in Tilstock Camp near Walentyna’s family, and their daughter Barbara was born in October 1949. They later moved to Yorkshire to join the rest of the family. Walentyna died on 7 January 2001.