Witold SZYMANSKI

His memoir called "Human Traces"

Part 2

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Harvest Home

Some years after the wedding, I was a part of the family, aged six, going on seven years of age.I was sitting on a wooden bench with his Dziadzio. We were both enjoying the benefit of the blessing of the hot summer in 1939. This was an indication of an extremely good harvest.In the meantime, the sunshine and the summer’s warmth, offered a well deserved rest to all the hard working farmers in and around the whole country.

During their rest, the farmers still watched their fields with great expectations. They could foresee that all the mills would be unusually busy for many months to come. All the mills; wind, water and the most evident, and reliable, the steam powered ones, though polluting the air with the coal smoke, would be grinding the wheat and the rye into bread giving flour. It carried on nonstop, days and nights.

The sugar beets were being loaded directly on to the carts, ready for delivery to the mills. There, they would be crushed and squeezed into molasses. Some of the extracted juices would be fed to the domestic animals, mixed into their dry fodder, during the cold and long winter months. The remaining juices would be processed further into the sweetening crystals in the form of sugar.

There was still a fair amount of other work on every farm, as usual. The animals and the poultry had to fed, but with more spare time for relaxation, the local folks spent the hot hours of the summer days outside, in the shadows of their orchard trees.

The grownups played chess, or less demanding droughts, while the children roamed in the gardens; cutting down the nettles by the fences, with their wooden sticks, or playing hide and seek. These places were full of joys and laughter. They were places of real happiness.

With the blessing of such hot summer, the harvest came early, and it was a very fruitful and rich harvest that year 1939.

Harvest was always the most important time in the lives of the farming communities. It was not only their livelihood, but also that of the whole nation; of the whole country.

The farms are the food baskets of every household, of every nation and that of the whole world.

Those, black, fertile rich fields on most farms in and around Wolczek, when, after having been ploughed, even the bare furrows held some magic promise of plenty, just reward for the hard work, put in by human efforts. That was how nature responded to the honest human toil.

Neglected fields, even with the best soil would get overgrown by weeds and nettles.

Although I was young at the time, I can remember seeing thousands of acres of such, neglected, rich soil in Russia, where I was deported to in February of 1940.

There was no sign of any efforts for improving the lives of the Russian citizens.

There, the human traces were being methodically wiped out by the despotic tyranny.

In the region of Wolyn, in Poland, people were not afraid of work, quite the opposite; they were always out on their fields. They were the true Polanie, the earlier name for the Poles, people of the planes, fields, and for their hard toil, they deservedly reaped their just rewards of plenty at harvest time.

On other fields, were huge clamps of potatoes piled up, looking like humpy hills. They were all covered with straw and topped over with a layer of that same soil in which they have grown.  It was a simple, yet such a necessary protection against the frosts of the severe winters of the region. This method of protection also kept the goodness and the quality of those potatoes from being damaged by the sunlight.At the end of summer, even the small mills were busy with pressing oils from sunflowers and juices from many different fruits.

Outside the mills, one could see farmers in small groups. Some of them puffing their pipes and discussing a very important event, the forthcoming of their harvest home. They would talk about their biggest get together of the year.

The harvest festival must count amongst the most beautiful social gatherings among the farming community. It is the reflection of their way of life. It is a natural and true profile of their hearts and souls.

These people, who can work so hard, non-stop, can also enjoy themselves with twice the energy as others do.Where there is happiness, there is singing, music and dancing. That eternal miraculous circle breeds one another.The farming communities had them all, and much more.Weather allowing, they would have their festive party out in the open.Otherwise a barn would do.

All the food goodies were lied out on white linen covered tables. There were so many of them that the tables were straining with the weight. They were all homemade, delicious goodies. They looked mouthwatering just looking at them.

Smoked delicacies and some regional specialties, like marinated geese and grouse were decorated in the middle of the main table. Dozens of different sausages filled other spaces. Large loaves of rye bread and dozens of small, white crescents with some poppy seeds on top were laid out evenly right across all tables, with fresh butter in the shape of small bricks scattered there also.

Delicious babas and honey cakes with other, sweet, baked goodies, too, finding their place.

Next to them, in big bowls, were different orchard and soft fruits.Innumerable bottles of wodka and wisniowka, made from the famous local Morello cherries, as well as refreshing cherry compote, to regulate the participants' poor stomachs, all stood there ready for drinking.For those who might fancy a liter or two of beer, there were a few barrels of that brew made from the local hops. 

          There was something to fulfill everyone's heart's desire.

The actual festivities would begin, with God, by saying the grace. The local parish priest would lead them by praying: "Bless o Lord, our God, all of us gathered around this table and bless the food which we are about to consume with dignity, from Your bounty, by the grace and the glory of Your Son, our Lord, Jesus Christ, Amen".Then, traditionally, the mayor gave a short speech. It was always very brief and to the point - cooperation and goodwill, for if ever there was solidarity among people, then it must have stemmed from the country life.

There was also something else very vivid, during such big get-togethers; the respect and the courtesy, not only shown by the grown up children, but also practiced by them, by the polite way in which they were serving their elders before they would start eating and drinking themselves.

The courting lads were all dressed to kill, like peacocks. Some wore dark shirts, others had light ones, but they all were somewhat baggy, loose, so that they let plenty of air to refresh their bodies while dancing various, vigorous, very strenuous country-dances.

In their collars, young farmers wore contrasting, loose bows. Their dancing boots had light metal hooves on their heels and were shining blackThe young maidens wore colourful ribbons in their hair, were dressed in multicoloured frocks and wore red dancing boots.

They did not have any make up. With their rosy cheeks and red lips, like cherries, which grew around them, they had no need for any artificial colourings. They were just natural beauties, full of joyful laughter and smiles, full of life.

The local musicians would begin the lighter side of the gathering with a tune of the traditional 'sto lat' (hundred years), which was to wish the Mayor abundant years of life.

Afterwards, everybody would be waiting for some lively tune like polka or oberka.Soon, everyone was on the floor, dancing; only the dust was rising up into the air.

They danced with such enthusiasm, vigour and energy that the newly laid wooden floor, for this special occasion, was cracking up here and there, especially at the time, when the young farmers started showing off their acrobatic skills on the dancing floor that, standing to one side, one could see steam coming out from the dancers’ heads.No wonder that there was so much food left on the tables, yet many bottles of wodka and wisniowka stood, emptied.

Now and again, one of the musicians would take a break for some refreshment and a gurgle for their local chords with, the worst of liquids for such purpose, a drop of wodka.

Now and then, a pair of courting couples would sneak out and disappear in the orchard for some fresh air, and probably an innocent kiss or two.

Paul and Joan, one young couple, who were engaged and were known to everybody to be passionately in love, have not been seen back on the dance floor for some time. When they returned, after about half an hour, they were both glowing with blushes of happiness on their faces.During longer breaks, the elders would take the stage, to tell various riddles and stories, some from their own experiences.

On one of such breaks, the oldest in the gathering, ninety-two years old, Marcin Gora, was given the chair on the podium.With a help of his walking stick, he got there, sat down and started telling a story about his wife Magda, about some of her encounters with a young, traveling salesman and his magic box.

"I am going way back, some sixty year", started Marcin. "In his box, Moishe, that was young man's name, carried some bobbins of various coloured threads. A couple of dozen of different sizes sewing needles, some safety pins, half a dozen, or so, shoe laces, together with some black and brown shoe polish.

Marcin's box of all needed necessaries, though very small, looked very impressive indeed, that is why no housewife could resist buying something.

On one particular visit, Moishe's first, my beloved wife Magda did not have any cash at home at that time and she was working out on the far fields.Embarrassed, God bless her, Magda confessed her lack of money, but to her surprise, Moishe said that she could have anything, she wanted and pay him next week, or when she got some money.Magda, modest, as always, chose two bobbins of threads, white and black, a couple of needles and a small tin of black shoe polish.

Moishe jotted all those items in his book, put it in his box, and before going on his journey, asked Magda if she had any eggs to spare."But of course", she said, with her usual big, friendly smile. "Could you sell me, say, half a dozen?" Moishe asked. "Sell? I'll give you them, as a token of my appreciation of your trust".,  Turning towards the hen pen,  in quick steps, my Magda came back with half a dozen fresh eggs in her apron and handed them over to the young, happy salesman.Assuring of his coming the following week, Moishe got on his bicycle and went on to the next farm.

A week later, my darling Magda had forgotten all about the whole episode with the salesman, until she saw Moishe, pushing his bicycle and bowing, in the farmyard, just as she was about to feed her poultry.

"Oh dear, you won't believe me, but I have forgotten about you coming to-day", said my, somewhat confused, darling wife. "Don't let that worry you, madam", he tried to console and disarm my Magda. “I’ll be coming this way next week, so can pay me then. In the meantime, if you need anything from my stock, you'd only be too welcome to get on credit, for I trust you", said clever Moishe. "Oh, thank you, thanks a lot". Said, by then completely pacified, Magda. Just before going off, Moishe turned his head towards my treasure wife and asked if she could sell him a boiling fowl. "You know, my wife, Halci is in bed with nasty cold and she said that a hot chicken broth would do her a world of good, it'd speed her recovery. Could you sell me one?"

"No, but I'll, gladly, give you one, for being so understanding", said my hospitable pet, wife, and she dashed to the pen, coming out with a big fowl."Here you are, take it. I hope that your wife gets well soon".

Happy Moishe thanked her a dozen times, each time with a big bow, almost to the ground, assuring her of coming for his money the following week.Once out the farmyard, though, thinking to himself how profitable that one tiny transaction had become, because by then, he must have made a hundred times the profit, he'd have expected to make on those few, piddle items, and that, just out of one honest person.
Moishe would normally visit about four to five households every day, except on Saturday - the Sabbath Day.No doubt, all of you are wondering what had happened during Moishe's following visits.Well, the next time he came, my Magda paid in full, all of thirty-two grosze and gave Moishe another half a dozen fresh eggs for his children, of which he had none, for he only just got married.

He kept coming at regular intervals, selling those odd, small items for many years, but always in my absence. Until, eventually, one day, when I was in bed with cold, I learnt the whole story and we saw Moishe no more. By then, though, he was running a big general store in Krylow". Old Marcin Gora's true-life story ended.

The, assembled, young farmer would entertain by singing melodious songs about the life in the country, about their toils and their loves.Paul was the youngest member of the district apiary. He started with only a couple of beehives, so he wanted to share his interest in his profitable hobby. He went onto the stage and started; "If only people lead such an extremely well organized life as that of the bees. Every bee has the happy small duty in every bee's brood. There, they are all equally important. They decide what happens in their, big colony of thousands of bees. They decide whether they want to grow bigger, or to breed another queen bee and split their big family by swarming.

If the bees decide on swarming, then they have a big wedding party out, on a sunny spring day, when a young queen bee flies in courtship with some drones, which were bred for the sole purpose of fertilizing her. Once they have done their short, but important duty of fertilizing the queen bee for her entire life, they no longer have a place in the brood.

The young, fertilized queen bee takes thousands of young, strong worker bees with her and they all fly away to form a new colony, preferably in a waterproof hollow scoop of a large tree trunk.

There, they start their new life by building a wax-comb where the queen is will start laying eggs to start a new generation, a new brood. So, after a short while, the day to day life goes on, with some bees bringing pollen in and others turning it into honey, which they store in some empty cells of the newly built honey comb. Other bees are kept busy feeding the queen bee, with the special rich, nutritious honey jelly, which gives the queen bee all the energy to continually lay thousands of eggs and also to give her a longer life. Another team clean the hive, which smells of absolute cleanliness, while the strongest fly out for miles into different fields, where there are flowers to collect pollen and water dews from which to make deliciously sweet honey.

The directive from above seems to work amongst other insects, like ants and termites, birds and animals, but does not yet work amongst human beings. Why? Is it because of greed? Or do they forget that we are only passing through this short life on the way to a much better place?" Young Paul paused with that philosophical question.

"Even I can remember when there was a single plough and a single horse plough". Paul continued. "They took a long time to plough a few acre fields. Now, there are ploughs with three and six cutting blades, which take four to six horses to pull, or as of late, there are even big, heavy tractors used, which plough the soil, turning over six furrows in one go.

During the harvest time, big machinery is used to do the work, the task. That normally used to take twenty to thirty men to carry out with the scythes and flails, with twice as many women to carry the dried wheat sheaves into big barns.These gigantic machines cut the wheat, separating it from their chef and after threshing, collect the clean corn into sacks, and bind the straw into cubes, dropping them on the fields as they go.

          The happy and friendly party expanded into one continuous ball. It looked like it was going to go on until the daybreak.The spontaneous appreciation of the enjoyment could be heard from the young men shouting "hopsa-hopsa" now and again, as they all carried on dancing and singing till the early hours of the next morning.The early light of Sunday morning was the signal for different celebrations. The friendly gathering started dispersing, but still singing, joking and laughing on the way to their dwellings.

Later on that day, the sun came out with its full warmth. There was not a cloud to be seen over the big, bright horizon. It brightened up and cheered everyone, on that special Sunday, as a number of horse driven open carriages, full of happy people of all ages, started traveling along the dusty road, singing joyfully on their way to church for a thanks-giving mass.

They all had so much to thank The Creator Almighty, our God, for. Once inside the church, they did so by singing with the exaltation for His Goodness, His Love and His Universal Light, praising God in His glory and the generosity that knows no bounds.

In their humble prayers, with their minds and souls and with their contrite hearts, they thanked God, while at the same time asking Him for His guidance, His care over them, day by day.

On the way along the dirt village road, only the faint clip-clap of the horses shoes were telling the occupants of the carriages, which they were close to the end of another, happy and eventful moment in their life's journey, as they were about to return to their dwellings to prepare for the coming winter.

Evil war

Young Andrew was looking forward to starting his further studies. He was interested in the techniques of farming; combining agronomy, agricultural chemistry and field crop production.For this reason, he moved to live with his uncle, who had a farm, not far from where he was going to study, near the city of Poznan,

Andrew went from Wolczek to his uncle's farm in Krzyz (Cross), by the river Notec, during the last week, in August of 1939.Mister Krzyzanowski, Andrew's uncle, invited the young student to take a spot of rest, before his studies, by the many lakes nearby, to the north.

There, Andrew picked up another pleasant hobby - canoeing.

His favourite pastime remained horse riding. He was natural at that and to show his appreciation for his uncle's hospitality; Andrew helped him around the farm without even being asked.

Very early in the morning, on September 1, 1939, Andrew got up, with the break of dawn, to help his uncle with the cattle.must have been about five o'clock by the time Andrew saddled one of the horses.After his uncle let all the cows out into the yard, Andrew drove them to the green pastures, in the meadows by the woodland.Hardly, had he closed the gate of the field fence, when he could hear heavy engine noises, as if two or three tractors were coming from the woodland. Andrew spurred his horse to move in that direction. The animal refused and bolted instead.

The dawn was turning into full daylight, as Andrew could clearly see heavy armored tanks rolling out from the nearby woods. The next moment, a whistling shot went right past his left ear. After that shot followed a second one and another.Andrew, laying his head between the stallion's ears, quickly turned him round and galloped like a lightening back to the farm."There are terrorists! Bandits! Armed bandits are coming!"  Andrew shouted as loud as he possibly could.

Everyone heard the shots. They all came outside. "Calm down, where?" His uncle was trying to control the man..."I've seen their tanks coming from the wood. There, next to the meadow. They must have seen me, because they shot at me!"

"Come; get inside in case they decide to come here". They all rushed towards the house. In the meantime, everybody in the entire neighbourhood was woken by the sudden noises of low flying airplanes coming down from the dark skies of the autumn. They were shooting at everything that moved, even the shepherds in the meadows below.On the wings of the planes, black crosses were clearly visible, on a white background; they were the same insignias as those, which Andrew had spotted on the deadly tanks, earlier that morning.

The flying terrorists started shooting, even at women with their children, as they were coming from the sheds, carrying fresh milk for their families.

Andrew's untie, Maria noticed an old man walking his dog. She asked Andrew to invite him in, so that he could take a shelter with them."Those Germans must have gone completely mad", commented Mr. Kowal, "they are even shooting the shepherds' dogs".

Once inside, Stefan Kowal, carried on cursing, "Those armed bandits from the west". “For that vicious and barbaric invasion”, Stefan stopped to collect his thoughts. "They are the most horrid terrorism by the armed, greedy, so and so. Those warmongering, those murderous German bandits", Stefan kept on, almost shouting, "Must count on par, if not worse, with that of the wild hordes of Mongols, in the early twelfth century... What year is it now - 1939! - Twentieth century!!

“They haven't, advance one jot culturally. If anything", a very upset Stefan carried on, "they have gone backwards; calling themselves civilized and God fearing people! Damn them". He finished his cursing for a while. 

"Come on everybody, let's shelter in the underground cellar, we'll all be safer there".  Andrew’s uncle suggested, and they all followed Jan Krzyzanowski to the cellar, where all the food was stored and which was build away from the living quarters for a number of reasons, like fire and other.

Hardly they all got down and closed the door, when a couple of vicious dogs barking could be heard in the farmyard."I bet you that they are German dogs, those nasty Doberman, like their masters, “started old Stefan anew."I'll go and find out". Andrew volunteered. "Go on, but this shotgun with you". Shouted his uncle, handling him a double-barreled gun and take a handful of twelve bore cartridges.

Once out, Andrew, with the gun in his hand, ran to the barn and climbed the ladder to the top, on to then hay. The two dogs were on his heels. Two shots were heard and the two, vicious, dogs, with their saliva foaming out their nasty jaws, laid down throwing up blood through their nostrils.

"Where did they come from?" A question crossed Andrew's mind.He didn't have long to wait for the answer. Two Gestapo dressed in black, speeded past on their motorbikes, along the dusty village road, but fortunately carried on without stopping.

"I better hide those dead animals somehow", thought Andrew, as he came down and began dragging dogs' corpses out the barn.

After a short while, loud marching steps could be heard outside the barn.

Andrew crawled close to the gap in the roof overlooking the road. A moment later, he could clearly see six armed men, all dressed in black Gestapo uniforms, leading a group of young men.

As they got closer, Andrew could see about fifty young men with yellow Star of David pinned on their jackets' lapels.As they were passing right outside the barn, Andrew saw one Gestapo throwing half of an unfinished cigarette, still burning, on to the road. One of the young men, in the group, quickly picked it up, but the Gestapo man, seeing it, kicked that dog end out off the young man's hand and with the butt-end of his rifle, he knocked the young fellow to the ground, trampling the dog end with his heavy boot.

Inside the house, Stefan could not stop laying out his revulsion, by continuing on with his disgust; "I read that their selfish, demon possessed, Adolph Hitler is being blamed for all his greed, which is now spreading into this ugly armed terrorism. I, for one, do not accept that he alone is to blame. There must be many thousands "Adolph’s", who are willing and competing in the art of atrocities already committed in Czechoslovakia, and which is now encroaching into our country".

After a long while, Stefan filled his pipe, lit it, and after taking a couple of puffs, carried on; "This Adolph Hitler will most certainly go down into history, at least, twofold; firstly as the most barbaric savage murderous leader ever recorded in the history of human conflict.

Attila the Hun, who killed his own brother and led his gang to ravage the Romans, or Ghegis Ghan, had nothing on him. They were mindless barbarians". He added, with another puff from his pipe.

"Secondly, and as the right punishment for his inhumane atrocities, he'll end up in perpetual hell, together with thousands of his followers, who are trying to create that hell here, on God's earth".

"Would you like a slice of bread and a piece of homemade garlic sausage?” offered Mrs. Krzyzanowska. "Yes please, I'd love that, but if I may, before I lose my thread of thinking, can anyone tell me, what sort of egoistic, rapacious, repulsive, devil like, cunning people are they, who live in the center of our European continent, and who keep coming up -almost at regular intervals- with such atrocities of murdering their neighbours around them?"

"Well, Germans will be Germans. It showed over the ages how barbaric they are, and I fear they'll never change". Jan Krzyzanowski said. "I'd put it down to a history of violent aggression by the selfish, mad warmongers. It must be in their genes". He added."Just watch how the Polish hospitable, Christian people are going to be put to the lions, by German brutal oppression once more. They will pilfer, like savages", continued Jan.

"They'll be doing all sorts of the worst of atrocities, like their ancestors in Prussia before them. They'll oppress and murder our people, but it is impossible to kill a nation. For a nation is like life itself. It comes from God, it belongs to Him and to Him alone it will go back again.

People who suffer persecution and death will be free forever, but a nation stays alive until God wills it to. Even if it be dormant for a little while, a nation comes to live, often wiser, healthier and wealthier than before, joyful and free". Jan finished his teaching.

Thieving bandits from the east

Jan Krzyzanowski was right, but only to a point, at that time.During that same, dark autumn, on September 17, 1939, the raging wild, poverty-stricken hordes of ragamuffins from the east also crawled into Poland, in their thousands, like vermin.The two, age long oppressors of Poles, must have not only made a pack with one another, but together, they must have also been on friendly terms with the Devil himself.

 Soon after, a very sad, despairing gap crept into Poles' lives. The red -deprived, armed bullies- bulimia stricken Russians bandits started pilfering our villages and towns in accordance with the Molotow Ribbentrop pact 23.08.1939." "Together, we can tear Poland apart", it said. So, the Russian red ragamuffins helped the sordid, rapacious Nazi German bandits in the destruction of Poland and her multi-national, multi-cultural people.It was in the very early hours, during a cold, winter’s morning, four days after Christmas, when I was woken by the strong banging on the porch door of the cottage.

"Daddy, daddy! There are thieves at the porch door", I remember shouting with anxiety. My Father didn't think that ordinary thieves would make such commotion. After a short while, when he could hear the cows mooing and  so adding to the general disorder outside of the wild barking of the dogs, on top of the very unusual havoc created by the poultry, Father loaded his rifle and went to check out what was going on outside.

Moment later, there were shouts and struggles to be heard in the porch. There, two armed 'soldats' attacked our Father as soon as he opened the door. Then, they disarmed him and took him, together with others, onto a stolen cart from the neighbour, Sokolowski's, with him on it, and drove them all away into the unknown.

My father, Julian, thereby, who twenty years earlier, as a young soldier in the formation of the bravest cavalry regiment, who prided himself on having chased those hungry, thieving bandits back to their country, all the way and beyond Kiev, was now in their hands.

The reason was quite simple; then, they came expected, as thieving warmongers, sent by their despot the Czar.

At that time, my dad, Julian was single and carefree young soldier. He had determination to free his homeland from the hands of tyranny. He fought bravely and won.

In 1939, my dad had a young family. He was not on his own, for if he were, then, as sure as heavens above, if not just two, but even twenty soldats came for him, he would not let them take him away as easy as that.This time, in the depth of winter morning, they had the upper hand and it seemed as though, at least for then, they might have been winning.

During those traumatic moments, our whole family was praying for our father’s safe return.

My luck held strong in those traumatic experiences.

It was some consolation that my Dziadzio was there, though a nasty dose of cold was the reason for his prolonged stay, but at least there was an adult male for the young housewife, with her children.

Mother found some solace in those tragic moments - not mention how pleased I was. I was playing a male nurse to my favourite companion by taking him cups of tea with honey, lemon and a drop of wodka to my Dziadzio and chirping him to a quick recovery.

It was a very dull morning outside, full of drizzle and heavy mist.

Inside, our Mother, with her eyes continually wet, was preparing a belated breakfast, when the porch door opened and in came her husband Julian, our father.I remember all of us running to hug him. There was this elating feeling after the earlier, heart breaking, depressing experience.With the heavy burden still on his mind, father, holding a hot jug of lemon tea with honey, started telling us about his tormenting experiences of the early morning, down town, in Krylow.

"Vanka Vankowicz, the red soldat appointed for the duty of interrogation, saw all the multitude of people. He must have got frightened and released all the members of Krakus military reservists and let us all go free".

"They called us, continued Father, “hard-working people, farmers; bourgeois, because we earn our own living, which in their primitive, deprived people’s eyes we are 'kulaks' who deserved; according to that new, red tyranny, to be killed?

Instead of working their own vast and rich land; nearly half the world of it, those depraved, starving, poor people, led by their new despot, murderous red demon, Josef Stalin, are forced to rob their neighbours".Our, very upset, Father got it of his chest.

Father carried on with some of his findings and own conclusions. "From what I have seen and heard; all the shops in the nearby towns and villages were pilfered and stood empty. Their owners, though, would not board them up, for fear of further oppression and persecution from those lousy invading, starveling ragamuffins”.

The terrorists’ most popular booty was wrist and pocket watches, because they could be hidden in their pockets. They trusted no one, not even their own brothers. They are frightened, as most bullies are, of their own shadows. Such is the depth of their own experience of the genocide of their own citizens brought with them to Poland from their very poor and primitive life in Russia.

“Now, you will never believe this; some of them were so primitive, that they would gladly barter five wristwatches for one alarm clock!  Better still. One day, a backward, simple, halfwit soldat was riding through the village on a stolen bicycle and saw a worker in the field. He stopped and got off the bike to ask the worker as to what time it was, whereupon the worker stuck the fork, with which he was spreading stable muck, looked at the handle's shadow and answered that it was half past four. "If that tells time, then give it to me" the red soldat said and took away the worker's muck spreading fork". My Father finished telling his experienced traumas.

There were many other similar and even more sinister incidents, which oppressed people at large.That is how another vicious, senseless, barbaric and bloody war had begun spreading, like the wild bush fire, all over my country, Poland.

Started by the German warmongers on the west frontiers, with murder and genocide of millions of innocent people, the aggression continued on to the eastern borders. There were wild robberies, oppression and deportations of the people into forced labour camps; into the poverty-stricken country, enslaved by their own despotic tyranny of red Communism.

Though the wild and hungry red terrorists were present, practically everywhere, the day-to-day life of the people continued with less atrocities than that experienced under the Nazi German occupation, according to what Andrew, who rushed back -from the west- to his family home in Wolczek, managed to tell the villagers. Especially, he hastened to tell them about, the persecution of the Gypsies and the Jewish people, whom they were determined to wipe out completely.

Christmas 1939

Thick, crisp, brilliant white snowflakes kept on falling continually during that night of December 5, 1939.By the time I woke up, the following morning, to look under his pillow and see what Saint Nicholas had brought him, the whole land was white. It hid the ugly ravage of war.

"Hooray!" I yelled, running happily to his elder brother, Zygmunt. "Could you please, please take the sleigh out the barn? We simply must go out!"I was excited and thrilled at the prospect of rediscovering a new world, of having fun in the snow.

After also learning that Dziadzio's health improved slightly, I could not stop showing my complete joy and happiness. I kept on going on and chirping about how all those numerous jugs of lemon tea with honey and rum, which he carried, helped his best companion and storyteller to shake off the nasty cold."Better have your breakfast first", said the sensible Zygmunt."Can I come too?" pleaded two years old family’s baby, Irena, hardly aware of what all the fuss was about.

A little while later, all wrapped up in coats, with scarves around their necks and muffs, still feeling the warmth of the hot milk, mother made them drink, the three of us were ready to face the snowy world outside, frozen in time, sparkling and motionless, Trees were transformed into gigantic, eerie shapes, creating a fairy tale atmosphere. When we breathed, the air smelt like needles, which stabbed our nostrils and made us sneeze.

We took the sleigh out the barn and discovered the fun of hauling it up the slop, then sliding down, tumbling in the crisp snow, not caring that we might get soaking wet or bruised.

Our two dogs, Azor and Aza, who were strong enough to pull the sled, joined us and we tumbled down together in the snow.After spending the whole morning, playing and screaming, we decided it was time to go home, only when we were getting dizzy from the dazzling snow and our stomachs gave out rumbling noises from hunger.

The kitchen was full of steam billowing from kettles and pots, as the older female members of the family; grandmother, affectingly called Babcia, mother and the eldest sister, Genia, had started on the preparations for Christmas.Genia was only fourteen, but she was keen to learn the culinary arts of the Polish kitchen, passed on from generation to generation.

Babcia was showing her how to make the traditional stuffing for the poppy seed cake. Mother had already mixed the yeast dough, which was rising in the warmest part of the kitchen, by the range. The whole place was filled with aromatic spices and made the three of us even hungrier.

Mother gave us a big bowl of hot soup, which they ate with some chunks of bread, knowing that we could not indulge ourselves too much, as during the period leading up to Christmas a strict fast was observed by all, including children. We did not mind that, as we knew, we would have more than enough during the Christmas period itself, which would start on Christmas Eve.Christmas is the most festive and solemn celebration in Poland. It is spent with family and friends and goes back to the pagan Slavonic times.

On Christmas Eve, in particular, the customs and traditions, from times when there was no Christmas in Poland, are observed. The Polish Christmas has brought together the motifs of paganism and Christianity into a colourful and poetic whole.

Three days before Christmas Eve, uncle Kazik arrived from the city, bringing with him terrible stories of mass killings and fights; of buildings being destroyed, of people fleeing their homes, with all they could carry, to escape from the Germans. He also said that the Russian army invaded the eastern border and were fast encroaching everywhere. It would only be a matter of weeks, or days before the peace and tranquility of country life, that existed, would be shattered.

What would happen then? What would happen to this family house, where all the children were born? It was our world; the only world we were close to, the world where everyone and everything was familiar and dear to us. Our world was a place in which we felt loved and secure, which we loved more than anything else. It was our warm nest, our home.

Uncle Kazik brought bad news of tremor, of tension and fear to the pre-Christmas gathering.

I could hear grownups’ whispers and mutterings long into the night and he lay awake listening to the strange noises that shattered my world.Christmas Eve celebrations, though overshadowed by the sad news of war, began at dusk, as usually, when the first star keenly looked out for by children, was spotted in the sky. The whole family gathered around the table, which was beautifully prepared, and the head of the household intoned the prayers, followed by the singing of Christmas carol. This was followed by breaking of the blessed wafer taken by all who go round to every member of the family, sharing it with each other and wishing them the best health and happiness. Every wish was sealed with a warm and loving kiss; for Christmas Season and the coming New Year.

For us, children, it was the most beautiful evening of the year in which the fairytale atmosphere was embodied in the colourful candles on the decorated tree, under which gifts were placed by loving hands. Everyone got something, according to our age, but even the most modest gift had a special meaning, symbolizing love and togetherness.

Afterwards, we all sat down at the table, covered with a white tablecloth, under which was placed a layer of straw. This was in remembrance of Jesus Christ having been born in a stable, as there was no room at the inn. His birth in a stable demonstrates God's message of humility. Both, the stable and the manger with some straw give the brief but clear message, full of meaning to Christmas that nothing except love and sharing, ever, matters on earth.

While everyone was busy settling down at the table, Father slipped out to the barn and the stables in order to share the blessed wafer with the all the animals. This is another Polish custom. It reminds that the animals were the first to witness the birth of Christ. It is said that those animals could speak on this holiest of nights.

"Mother, why is there an extra cover set at the table?" Being alert to anything, I asked.

"It is another very old custom of hospitality that stems from the belief that with every visitor to a home on this night God comes Himself. There is always an extra place for a stranger, or a person, who may be feeling lonely. If anyone comes, he is treated like a guest of honour".

I pondered about this and thought of the Russians. "Would they be welcome guests, if they arrived that night?" I wondered. It seemed as though the thought occurred to other members of the family, as they were rather passive.

Father is coming back from the stables, stamping his feet to get the snow off his boots and blowing on his hands to warm them up, broke the discussed tension."The frost is setting already. It will be a cold night, but the animals are well tucked in the hay", he said cheerfully.

The first course was a spicy barszcz, a clear beetroot soup, which was served with tiny pasta, called uszka (ooshka), filled with wild mushrooms. Then, a very tasty carp in aspic jelly, which was already placed on the table, was being served. After this, came the hot courses anew, like pierogi; pasties filled with cabbage and mushrooms and another variety filled with potatoes and cheese, which were the children's favourite.In between the courses, carols were sung, not only for the joy of singing, but also to allow the food to settle down, because traditionally, there should be twelve different courses for this festivity, in memory of the twelve Apostles.

Apart from the above mentioned food courses, we also had different sweet dishes, ranging from refreshing compote to somewhat sweet, rich in honey, nuts and thin, crispy pastry, kutia.Wine, wodka and wisniowka flowed freely during the whole meal until everyone said that they could not possibly manage another mouthful.

Everyone had drawn our attention to the presents, by the Christmas tree. The youngest member of the family, in this case the two years old Irena, was given the task of distributing them to everybody, with the help of her Babcia. There was joy and laughter and more carols were being sung.

One, very well-known carol, which has been translated into many languages throughout the world; "Lullaby Little Jesus", which was immortalized by Frederic Chopin, while he was convalescing in Valdemosa Valley, on the Isle of Majorca. He was missing his homeland, Poland and thus got inspired to writing this, most beautiful lullaby carol.

At around ten o'clock, on that special evening, a number of horse drawn sleighs drew up at the door with bells, fastened around them, ringing merrily. The carol singers had arrived and everyone joined them in another sleigh to go to the next house. In this way, every household was visited and the whole village congregated in church, for our final destination, the Midnight Mass in Krylow.

I cannot remember, ever singing as loudly and joyfully as on that Christmas Eve night.

Carol after carol came loudly from my lips and mixed with other voices and the church bells, which rang through the cold night, reverberating through the rafters’ right up to heaven.“Gloria! Gloria! Gloria! In Excelsis Deo!” We all paid our thanks to God in our own way. We praised Him for the blessings bestowed upon us and on our families, with special prayers for our beloved country, who was engulfed, yet again, in another war.

The whole congregation sang a beautiful and emotional hymn: "God, who helped Poland for so many ages, in Thy protection, glory and great power. You gave the wisdom to her bards and sages, also gave Thy own shield as her rightful dower. Before Thou altars, we kneel in supplication, Implore You God, free our land and nation".

Little did we realize that it was the last Christmas we would spend together as a family among our friends and neighbours? Soon, we would find ourselves in a strange land, far away from our loved ones and even further from our motherland, but that is another, very long story.

Deportation

My most memorable part of the Christmas festivities was of the second day of Christmas.

On that Boxing Day, there was the traveling, live show of the nativity play.All talented actors came to our house on a white, snowy and frosty Boxing Day evening in 1939.

The nativity show made such a wonderful lasting impression on me, that I could recite some of the more memorable parts of the scenes by heart ever since.

The New Year Day of 1940 was only a few days away. We were all looking forward to welcome New Year against all odds, but it was not to be.It snowed very heavily during the next couple of days. The snow on the ground kept staying on. It was deep enough for us, children to dig tunnels through the snowdrifts, while building a snowman and playing around with our two dogs.It was Thursday.

We were woken very abruptly on a freezing cold morning of December 29, 1939, by extremely loud shouts, mixed with frightening banging on the door of the porch of our house.It must have been extremely early, for it was still dark outside.

Living in fear ever since the arrest and the interrogations of our Father before Christmas, we were awoken up by the Russian soldats once again four days after the festive, Christian holidays. The terrorists’ terrifying commotions broke the dead of the night, which had stayed with me for ever.

Father went to check what it were about at the door. As soon, as he opened the door; four Russian armed bandits confronted our Father at the porch. They were shouting: "Pack your belongings; we have orders to take you all away. You have been considered the enemy of Russia", they kept on yelling.It was very cold outside, freezing winter's morning.

Our Mother wrapped us all children into eiderdown quilts to keep us warm, as well as to stop the youngest Irena from crying.Fortunately, in that most traumatic time, Mother used all the eiderdown quilts. They were to save our lives from freezing to death, as the story will unveil.

The gossiping whispers had it, from the Russian invading soldats, that they were evacuating us all for safety because of the war. If that were true, why weren't others, who lived in Wolczek, not being evacuated, but only those, whose men were members of the paramilitary organization Krakus, of which our father was one, and, as proud patriot, to be.

The fact that he was, also, a village’s counselor, must have weighed heavily against our Father.

Azor, our guard dog, agitated by the strangers’ presence, running up and down the yard, must have had enough of all the commotion going on out there. He started barking and showing his nasty fangs in anger. That is when one of the most miserable, frightened soldat took his revolver and shot at the dog. He was a poor shot though, as he must have been a heartless person. He only wounded poor Azor, who ran away with a painful wail across the yard and hid behind the stables. There, he might have licked his wound to a full recovery. Knowing Azor and his haunting ability, he might have even tracked down that lousy soldat, who took a shot at him. After all, Azor was the best hunting dog in the area. If he did find that bandit, then there would have been one less robber in Poland, for sure.

Unfortunately, I was not there to find out. Shortly after that incident, the whole of our family were driven away.

These miserable robbing bandits would not even let us take larger stock of foodstuff for the journey. The pilfering ragamuffins must have taken it all for themselves. That was the main reason why they invaded our country, Poland in the first place. What other reasons would they have had to come for?

After all, Russia, their country was the largest in the world. They did not need any more territories. The land they had was half-empty, neither lived on, nor looked after in any way whatsoever.Russian land was just abandoned and not cultivated by anyone. Their land completely neglected.Their tyrannous, oppressive system during the Czar days was not much different to the one, they cynically called communism.Both systems misgoverned.

They mismanaged everything to such extend that there was just naked poverty throughout that vast, rich in all natural resources, country called Russia.

Neither enslaving tyranny, nor oppressing communism hardly fed their people. Russia's new, despotic red Czar, Josef Stalin introduced such a system of equality in whicheveryone was very much equally poor. They were almost starving of hunger. That is why they were forced to invade Poland. That is also why they had to pilfer half of Europe for fifty years, after the war, and brought the same equality of poverty throughout.

It was freezing cold and windy during the slow journey to railway station.The dark clouds from the sky above covered the entire horizon.Even nature was not happy with the behaviour of the people and their treatment of other human beings. The whole of Wolczek was plunged into mourning. There were loud cries of women and children to be heard in practically every household.One of the cutthroats was on the cart with our family and another armed thug was on horseback, by the side of the cart.

The depressing journey seemed so very slow and taking ages. It was, but a short distance to the station, so why did it seem to take so long?"Why?" I thought. "Does it always seem that the pleasant happenings in life are, but like glimpses only, when the traumatic sufferings seem to last forever?"Even the leafless trees, on both sides of the road, were bending down with the sudden wind, as if to say their last farewell.Unable to console the welling of our Mother and my younger sister Irena, I joined them instead.My tears changed that beautiful homestead into such a very sad, almost depressing sight. Almost, if, when exposing a beautiful, freshly painted landscape in water colour to the rain and watching it change, in a moment, into one big and horrible mess.

I was thinking of my Dziadzio and Babcia. I was also thinking about my uncle Kazik and the happy moments we would have spent together fishing.I recollected the magic moments of Christmas time, which we had all spent together.I was also reminiscing the times at our aunty Lodzia, her son Ryszard and those most treasured moments during the summer gone.I was missing all those magic moments. Most of all, I was missing my Dziadzio. I could almost feel and hear my Dziadzio say; "Go on, cry a little more. Your innocent, child's tears will help erase, wash away, from your memory and from your mind all that worthless earthly, temporary beauty. The earthly life is only just an illusions; here to-day and gone to-morrow. It is only so temporary, that it is but mere stepping stone to happy eternity".

I could, not only hear those thoughts in my head, but also feel them in my heart and in my soul.

For our family, the end of our life, as we have known and cherished, short of nothing, but full of happiness, had come to a very sad and so abrupt, tragic end.In one brief moment, like death, my family and I lost everything and became homeless.Those traumatic experiences during that fatal deportation had scarred me for life.Every time I see a police officer, instead of feeling of being protected, I feel the opposite. I feel scared and threatened.Recalling my brief, happy moments, I suddenly realized that we all ended up at the railway station.

The railway station was slowly filling up with the multitude of people from the entire region.

I could see a very tragic picture of whole families, especially the parents with their children, all being herded like cattle into the goods wagons. We were being pushed onto the beds of boards with straw thrown over, even less than for cattle.Indeed we were led into cattle-trucks.

Conditions inside those cattle wagons were worse than are normally offered for the animals. There was no water, no heating, or lighting, no sanitary amenities of any kind.

Someone managed to cut out a hole in the floor, while someone else passed a large blanket, and that was how a bit of sheltered privacy was organized.I heard a sharp whistle mixing with human cries. Immediately after, the train pulled out and sped away into the unknown.The first time the train stopped was well inside the borders of Russia.

There was no shortage of Polish coal on the two open trucks, so the only reason to stop was for some water. On such occasion all of us maltreated people locked up in those cattle-trucks, on the forced journey into the unknown, were allowed to have some “kipiatok” boiled water.Boiled water and some hard tacks was going to be our basic food of survival.

Eventually this was our only diet throughout the journey, to that cursed, God forsaken and damned country – Russian hell.

Even though the journey had only just begun, already there were many deaths of the elderly and the meek.Death was marking our journey with traces of human sufferings; from cold and hunger.During that first stop, I had witnessed the most horrific death in an accident, which happened in the wagon we were in.

Mark looked out through the gap of the opened wagon's door, at the station. Suddenly, without any signal, the train started moving and that unexpected movement caused the door to close. It squashed Mark's head to a pulp, killing him instantly. His blood was everywhere.

There was this dead silence in the entire truck, after the initial shock. Then Mark's family lamentation filled the air with loud cries of despair, when two heartless red soldats took the body away.

The train pulled out and carried on, as if nothing had happened, on its journey to the east. 

The cattle train, full of enslaved Polish people, kept on stopping at regular intervals, at different stations, names of which I am glad to have forgotten.

What I did remember, rather well, was that it was forever getting colder and colder.

The countryside around was completely bare. As far as the eye could see, there was just emptiness, just nothing. No signs of any human traces, only the vast open spaces of wilderness all around, covered with thick, white snow.Now and again, large holms of woodland would appear on the white horizon, here and there.

Towards the end of that endless, depressing and so cruel journey, all the inside of the train tracks got covered with thick layer of frost.Many of the suffering travelers froze to death; just as they sat, on their freezing cold beds of bare wood.Maybe it was a blessing in disguise. It also froze up, eternally, all the human traces of suffering.

I believe that all those bare planks of wood, which carried those innocent, suffering people, even if burnt, would not be able to hide the most sinful behaviour of one human being towards another. Even if burnt, the ashes of those beds of cruelty would still cry, even to the other side of the universe, for justice!  Justice will be done! If not here, in this short life, full of sorrows, then it will be done in the eternal life. There, it will be far worse, because it will be eternally!  Eventually, whoever oppresses humans in any shape or form will be punished, because he offends his Maker, ever so patient, but always absolutely just.

“Beware, don’t do to others that which you’d not like done onto yourself!” I recall my Dziadzio saying. “Treat others the way you would like to be treated yourself”. He would add.

My family has survived the terrorism and all the cruelties of such distressing real live, human dramas of the most unparalleled proportions.We survived the terror of being forcibly uprooted from our homes.Maybe, it was for witnessing more human endurance against the atrocities and also to, possibly, suffer more traumas ourselves.Maybe all my traumatic experience was to tell others how people should live in harmony; to being friendly and loving one another, instead of oppressing, fighting and killing each other.To experience happiness, one must suffer the opposite; mental and physical pain and deprivation.

I have lived to believe that there is no eternal happiness without suffering here on earth. It is the super natural reason for all my sufferings and of those millions like me and my family – all over this planet earth.

Winter 1940, in Russia

The whole of our family ended up in a God’s forsaken Russian forced labour camp. It was on the other side of the Ural Mountains, near Swierdlowsk. The labour camp had a number to it. I shall never forget the depressing number of 109, in the Zajkowski region of Swierdlowsk Province.

In the Archive Documents of the Swierdlowsk Province, there is a preserved document confirming; that in the year 1941, in the Skorodumska Forest settlement of the Irbitsk Forestry, at the 2nd Stop of the Skorodumska Railway Line, in the Zajkowski Region.  The following persons were engaged in the labour: Szymanski Julian, born in 1898 and Szymanska Helena, born in 1911.

The above document is translated from Russian document and is signed by M.I. Kaczycow, dated 22/04/1998 by the Director of the Archives of the Swierdlowsk Province/Russian Embassy in London.

NB. The mentioned document does not include the period of 1939/40, when our family were actually brought by force and condemned to live and labour in the forced labour camp.

Another preserved archive document held in the State Archives of the Swierdlowsk Province, there is a confirmation stating that on December 29, 1939, from the village of Wolczek Wolynski in the Skorodumska Province, there was deported to Zaikowski Region in the Swierdlowsk Province a family that included as follows:

1. Szymanski Julian, son of Stanislaw, born in 1898, in Wolyn District – head of the family.

2. Szymanska Helena, daughter of Ivan, born in 1911, in the Province of Lublin-

Wife.

3. Szymanska Genowefa, daughter of Julian, born in 1925 (as documented)-

Daughter.

4. Szymanski Zygmunt, son of Julian, born in 1927 (as documented)- son.

5. Szymanski Witold, son of Julian, born in 1933 (as documented)- son.

6. Szymanska Irena, daughter of Julian, born in 1937(as documented)- daughter.

7. In the year 1941, another daughter Oniela (Aniela) was born into the family.

In the same archive document, there is a mention that: In the Wolczek village, in the year 1923,(two years after the First World War) sixteen years before their deportation, the Szymanski family estate consisted of : 11 hectares of land, family house, outbuildings, one horse and one cow.

The Russian robbing bandits have not mentioned that on the day of our forced deportation, as my Father was breeding horses for the army, we have had six horses and five milking cows, apart from a number of pigs, geese, ducks, egg laying hens and a dozen bee hives in our mixed fruit orchard, on top of all sorts of farm implements and different horse carts and even a classy droshky.We were forced out of our home and country predominately because we Polish patriots; my Father having been an army reservist, as well as a village counselor.

The same archive document, also, mentions that: “on the 12th August 1941 the Highest Committee of USSR issued a decree regarding the status of all Polish citizens deported to Russian territories (condemned to forced labour, with minimum bread and water) for forced labour, as prisoners of war, or in another –similar- circumstances, were no longer listed in the population census.

Following this decree, on 28th August 1941, the Szymanski family was no longer listed in the population census.That was when we left that hell on earth and headed south into freedom.

I remember the very primitive dwellings in the force labour camp, built from timber logs, with the in between gaps filled with forest moss, were to be the accommodation for many thousands of Polish families like ours.Inside the timber huts, there were hard beds, also made of wood. They were full of all kinds and sorts of crawling insects, mainly cockroaches and other kind of forest bugs.

Without hot baths, very soon, everyone was covered in lice. These were to be our constant companions throughout the entire time of our imprisonment in that part of the poverty-stricken and freezing cold country, where we must have been doomed to die in a very short time.At least, that is what that red oppressing butcher, Josef Stalin, twin brother in crime of the murdering Adolph Hitler, must have thought.

Not to be outdone by his brother in crime, Josef Stalin murdered millions of his own citizens all over that vast, misgoverned, completely mismanaged vast country. Because of that poverty-stricken hell on earth; created by Stalin and his execution henchmen, there murders were, daily, commonplace.The butchering hangmen had to drink themselves unconscious to overcome their own guilty conscious, but still they carried shooting, innocent people, into the backs of their heads.

In Russia, during the Stalin days, and for many years after, no one was ever sure of living for any length of time; be it a year or a day, even an hour. Brother was afraid of his own brother.Such was the extent of the tyranny, which I was listening to being discussed, in whisper, by some grownups and my father.Murders were a common place. It existed in that genocidal country, where human traces were being wiped out methodically, thousands at a time.

“What sort of people are those who terrorize others?”  This question crossed my mind while listening to those quiet whispers of the discussions, which I could not help hearing.

School bullies, from what I was told by my big brother Zygmunt, picked on physically weaker ones than themselves, so they could bully them. They would never pick on anyone, who they thought might be a bit stronger, for fear that, they themselves might get a good hiding.

“Animals kill to eat, to survive”. I have seen that even in a domestic cat, otherwise, they scratch with their claws and even bite, because they are frightened.“Must bad people always be horrid? Is it in their genes, or their nature? Or is it that the violence is spurred by evil, bestial people, full of greed?” Almost asleep, I kept on reasoning about such topics. It all germinated from a letter, I'd heard read by my Father, from a young man.

He was in Russian prison, and who, after escaping, had written: “how one, to two hundred prisoners, at a time, were let through some dark corridors for individual and collective interrogation once more. How they were repeatedly searched. How, on this -last session- his interrogator took away even their last, poor quality tobacco wrapped in newspaper cigarettes.

Afterwards, the prisoners were told that they were being transferred to a different place. Minutes later, lorry trucks could be heard, arriving on the outside prison walls. Escorted by armed soldats, the prisoners were being herded -like animals- onto canvas-covered lorries. Each lorry truck squashed to the brim with prisoners, like sardines. Each truck had six armed soldats on guard.

At five, in the morning, four lorry loads of us were going along the edge of the Katyn Forest.

It was very dark. We were all shivering with, the early morning frosty, cold.

I was in the middle of the last truck. At a bend, I took a chance and dived from under the canvas, without being noticed, landing fortunately into the thick undergrowth of the forest. I twisted my left foot, but after a bit of a rest, I could walk, ending down by a small pond, where I was hoping to catch my breakfast.

Though it was springtime, the morning was still very cold, one of many in 1940, when I could hear birds chirping merrily in the branches, at the edge of the woods. Deep inside though, there was continual shooting to be heard, throughout that day.

At first, I thought that it might have been some sort of an armed skirmish-taking place out there, or an army training?When it continued the following morning, I decided to wait and hopefully find out what was all that shooting.

I climbed a fairly tall tree. From there, I had a very big horizon around me. As soon as the dawn had broken, I could see lorry loads of men being driven into the woods.I waited a little longer, when empty lorries began coming out, while others were going in again. That’ when I discovered all that horror of shooting, because I could clearly see, from my vantage place, that from the early morning until the dark hours of the evening, those lorries were bringing exhausted, half-starved Polish prisoners to that dark forest for the biggest slaying of human beings”. Wrote Major Henry Skaczkowski, who, having studied in Russia after the first war, knew their language perfectly, both spoken and written, gave him a great advantage to mingle in their country without any problem whatsoever.

After staying around that area, to gather as much information about the genocide of his brothers, as possible, he wrote down in his letter all he had found: “That act of murder must surely rate as the most cowardly and the most vicious of human conflict on this planet. More cowardly act could not be imagined than that, when red executioners were shooting Polish unarmed prisoners in the back of their heads.

I took a chance of going to a nearby tavern”, carried on Major Henry, “to find if I could hear the local people talk about those atrocities. I hardly sat down to a hot bowl of soup, when I noticed four young Russian soldats, all armed with their revolvers, walk in and order half a liter of vodka.

A table to my left was empty and that is where they sat. After taking their green caps with a red star on them off, they began their drinking and chatting”.

“Our commander Suprenenko reckons that we’ll be here for a while yet”. One soldat said. “I think so, too”, agreed another.

“I could not sit on listening to their conversation, knowing that they were discussing a mass murder”, Henry continued in his letter, “so I got up and kept on walking slowly, visualizing how those vicious, lousy murderers had their rifles loaded and yet they could not look into the eyes of those in front of them, whom they were about to shoot in cold blood. Even their subdued quilt must have frightened them.

It the spring of 1940, while life begun to germinate, the Russian murderers depraved lives to all those thousands of human beings. Hidden by the woods of Katyn forest, the Russian shot over fifteen thousand of indefensible prisoners in the back.

I was getting tired. I hardly heard the last parts of the letter, as I fell fast asleep.

When I woke up, early the following morning, our Mother had run out of even the hard tacks for breakfast. Starvation was beginning to threaten our lives. There was only one way to get some survival bread, to go to do some extremely hard work in freezing temperatures of minus twenty.

Most of the fit men were working on the extension of the labour camp.

Devil incarnate, despot Stalin and his cruel henchmen, must had plans for bringing more people into that demon possessed hell in their country.

“For such torture, may they and all; the present, past and future warmongers be damned to hell, especially the Nazi Germans. They started the war and created that hell by the vicious killings, burnings and destructions of human lives. For uprooting thousands of families and making them homeless”, cried out our Mother, not being able of even giving her husband and the children a piece of hard tack for breakfast.

Fortunately, she, somehow, managed to have taken a handful of flour. She boiled a bowl of water and made some kind of an edible gruel.

Everyone had a few spoons of it to keep their stomach from complete hunger.

Father went to work in the nearby forest, later that morning.

One Saturday, I was walking with Zygmunt down to the nearby river, when, as ever inquisitive young lad, I got my older brother into some very serious discussions, by asking why this, why that and the other?

“Why does our mother go mushroom picking into the dark forest six days a week, from dawn to dust? Only to return very tired and not even bring us any of them. Instead, from what she tells us, she puts them all into a big wooden barrel, then salts them, and after all that effort, she does not keep them?”

“Ha, ha, ha!” laughed Zygmunt. “Mother does not choose to do all that. She is forced to, just to get extra bread to feed us. Those mushrooms, she collects, are send to Moscow”. “Where to?”  I asked. “To Moscow, the capital of Russia, for those starveling, red demons, who got our family here and turned this God fearing country into a completely godless one. “How can they have done that?”  I asked.

“Simply; they must have made a pact with the Devil himself and sold their very souls to him. Then, the beautiful places of God’s worship, they turned into prisons and into warehouses. They killed the preachers of all religions or imprisoning them without any trials. That way, they forced all people not to go to churches. They try to convince everyone that there is no God.

Those devil’s advocates, though, had not been able to stop people from praying, from loosing their faith. No one can do that”.

“It seems to me”, Zygmunt continued, “that their red ruffian leaders have it drastically wrong in more than one department. From what I hear why the Russian people are poorer to-day than ever before. They are worse off now than even during the despotic, tyranny and rules of their Czars.

Imagine that every bit of work carried out by every individual has to be recorded in writing, min every finest detail.

For example, two men are felling trees in the nearby forest. Each of them cut down five trees in a day, ready for rafting down the river. One man would write in detail; preparation for felling, cutting down five trees. Then, cleaning the trees from branches and finally, rolling them to the river in readiness for rafting. The second man wrote simply that he felled five trees ready for rafting.

Because of the red tape set up by the mad bureaucracy, the first man to extra ration of bread for achieving two hundred percent of production! He was given an acclamation of Stakhanovite?  The second man had his bread ration cut by half! He was close to starvation.Soon, everyone in the labour camp was a Stakhanovite. Every working person became an example to follow!” Exited Zygmunt carried on explaining,.

Our parents began to relax a little. They regained their health and strength, while becoming good technical writers at the same time. By doing less work, but writing with more details in their daily work sheets, the imprisoned Poles had more spare time fending for their families.

Some of the experienced, keen huntsman like my father soon established the presence of different wild animals and their tracks. They mastered setting up different snares for trapping hare, boar and deer.In the depth of the winter, the local hares were snow white. There were such multitude of them that most of the imprisoned Poles ended up with lovely and warm white coats and gloves.Larger animals used to be cut up in the shadows of the forest and brought in small portions to the camp under the cover of darkness.

Before long, Zygmunt, the expert angler, discovered a small lake, in one of the forest’s plains.It was full of big brown trout. This nutritious fish was added to everybody’s diet.

Soon, the men from the camp would start a barter type of business with the nearby Russian farmers;- meats and fish for potatoes and flour.

All the Polish children of school age had to the local school for quick Russification. They were being taught in the Russian language, which is actually Slavonic, very similar to Polish, but for the written form, which is completely different.

The minimum school going age was seven. I was two months short of that magic number, so I did not go to school.My Mother gave me some writing and reading tuition during her spare time.I loved going to the nearby forest with my father. There, too, I would learn a poem or a song from my father.

Christmas 1940

It must have been a couple of days before Christmas1941. My Father, having made some snares, had managed to sneak out, under the cover of darkness, from our labour camp No.109, near Swierdlowsk in Russia.Though it was a bitterly cold winter, with a spit freezing up solid before it reached -the snow covered- ground, our family was not going to go hungry during the forthcoming Christmas.With the snares in his coat pockets, father went to the nearby forest to set traps for some hares.

On Christmas Eve’s day, before the dawn had broken, I was about to have my first taste of an unusual adventure.I went with my daddy to the dark woods to find how many, if any, hares were caught.I cannot tell, for I don’t remember the exact number of the trapped animals there were, but I do remember dragging one -a completely white hare- on my shoulders along the deep white snow.

It must have been very big animal, for it felt quite heavy. On the other hand, I was not that big myself. In fact, I was only a young lad of six, going on seven, years of age.Nonetheless, I did what I had set out to achieve, that has to „help” my father.With great effort, I carried on dragging one big, white hare.

Father told me that we had to be back in our barrack before half past six in the morning.

Just as we were coming out the woods, the snow began to fall. Big, soft snowflakes were coming down from the sky, between the forest trees, gently at first. Then, in no time at all, the fall had thickened. The sky above had darkened and the weather had changed into a real snow storm.

It was impossible to see further than a few steps ahead. The bitter cold wind -that joined in- had gained its power. It had really deteriorated to such a magnitude, that we were finding it difficult to make any headway at all. Thick snow began showering, heavily, down from different angles.Father told me that -fortunately- on such stormy days, no one was expected to report for work.He suggested that we shelter under a low, thick, bushy tree and wait for the storm to die down a little.

We were lucky. After, only, about fifteen minutes, or so, the snowstorm had slowed down, almost as suddenly as it had started.I remember that, when I looked around, I noticed that we were only a couple of hundred of meters away from our barrack.Just as well it was, because we were frozen stiff. I could hardly make any movements at all. My frozen clothing would only let me make short steps after a long while.

As soon as we got inside our wooden hut, Mother made us some hot drink. With a slice of rye bread, sitting by the hot fire, we soon thawed out.We were finishing our simple snack, when our Zygmunt came in. Tapping around to knock the snow of his footwear, he had this happy grin on his face.

I wrote footwear, and not boots, because our industrious big brother had worn his own make footwear, made, or rather woven from wood strands. He had even made a small pair for me to wear.Anyway, twelve years old Zygmunt  had discovered a small lake in the depth of the dark forest. Where there is water, there should be fish. Indeed, in that lake was multitude of fish.As brave Zygmunt always carried a small, handy axe with him, he had little problem with cutting a hole in the surface of the frozen surface of the lake.

He would not waste precious bread for bate. Oh no. I did mention that Zygmunt was industrious. He certainly was. My big, clever brother just wrapped some paper on the hook, tied it up to some length of string, and he had caught four big fish.Not only did we have some meat for the forthcoming Christmas, and white, fluffy hare skins, from which to make gloves and small coats for our two youngest girls: Irena and Izabella, but also, we had four big, freshwater fish for our traditional Polish Christmas Eve Supper.

Later on that day, as soon as the first bright vesper had shown up in the sky above, we all sat down by a bare wooden plank table.On the table, in the middle, there was some fresh straw and a small branch of a freshly cut spruce, with a single, homemade candle on to of it.  Steaming away with lovely aroma, there was a bowl of hot beetroot borsch and fresh water fish in jelly for our Christmas Eve Supper.

Though it was very different from the traditional twelve courses, we used to have back home, we were thankful for we had got. We -certainly- were not going to starve at Christmastide.We broke some rye bread, instead of our traditional blessed wafer, in memory of our Lord’s ever presence and of His birthday, Holy Christmas.

We sang a few carols, quietly, between our simple meal and with profound gratitude, at the sublime mystery of God’s coming in human flesh; we prayed that we would not be forced to spend many more Christmases in exile.Jesus Christ’s redemptive coming, Christmastide, in exile, in Russia, had brought home some truth about life here on earth.

Looking back, it was a privileged experience on this valley of human tragedies; of sufferings, of cold and hunger.We experienced real poverty, even shortage of the daily bread. No cloths, or shoes, apart from those in which we were forcibly uprooted from our homes.We suffered deprivation and continual cold and hunger.We lost everything that was earthly possession.

 Out of bondage

The region of Zaikowski, near Swierdlowsk was very rich in natural resources. There certainly was plenty of wild life and flora. With good management, that region, without any doubt, would be the richest in the world.

The labour camp, where we were, was completely isolated from the outside world.

Our parents started to think of escaping from the labour camp. They had a very simple plan of escaping from there through the deep forests onto Finland and then to Sweden. For that reason, all the women kept on drying bread and fish.The year was 1941. It was August.

Like an unexpected thunderbolt from the blue sky, the good news reached us; that the barbaric murderers, the Germans attacked their partners in crime, our red oppressors.

Josef Stalin got completely confused. With great panic, he let the Polish people go free, so that they might organize an army to fight the Germans. Anybody, who wanted to join the Polish armed forces would get a special pass and could leave Russia with their families.

Early, one morning, though it was August, that day was freezing cold wind blowing outside the 109 labour camps near Swierdlowsk; there was a long queue of Polish men, of all ages, at the door of the commandant’s office. The men were waiting patiently to get the special pass with which to go and join the newly forming Polish army. That is how the biggest exodus of people, since the biblical times started the most enduring journey out from the biggest open prison on earth, Russia.

As the Germans, by then, were practically everywhere in Europe, the only safe route for the Poles was south to Persia.Our Father, having studied Russian, as a young boy, spoke and read their language very fluently.With his pass in his possession, we began the journey on the overcrowded train from the 109 labour-camp in a reasonable manner. It took us two weeks to get to the southern states. From there, we had to use any means of transport we could find.

Some distances, we traveled on the backs of camels, through some unknown desert. Other times we were not so lucky. We had to cross many swamps and rivers on foot, pressing on to get out from the borders of that hell, out of the Russian bondage.Sometimes, we traveled in company of others. At other times, we were just on our own. Often, we felt completely lost, not knowing what to do, or where to turn.

Slowly, our food reserves, even their dried bread and broken hard tacks were ending.

A few days later, after meeting some starving people, with whom we shared our last hard tasks, all our food reserves had gone.We began the journey of starvation. Our bodies exhausted with typhoid and malnutrition were wrapped in lice infected rags. We looked like walking shadows.Lice for our constant companions added to our misery of hunger and weakened our exhausted bodies.The continued starvation was staring into our eyes. We were very week, pale and hungry. We were indeed witnesses to the evil specter ghost of a war.Death by starvation was beginning to stare us in the face.

The most devastating experience that any human can go through, our family lived through.

Yet again, somehow, as if guided from above, the whole family has survived the endless, nightmare like journey through; Kazakhstan, Kirghistan, Uzbekistan, Afghanistan and other southern countries.Though the names of some of the countries might have sounded strange, their people were all very friendly and helpful. Most of them shared their last piece of survival bread with us, complete strangers.

It was an early spring day in Kirghistan. I remember it so vividly, as if it were yesterday, we staying in a small hut, which did not have any doors. It was very dark inside; with only a tiny window, full of cobwebs. On the dust floor, there was some hay and straw.It must have been a small shepherd’s shelter, or maybe a tiny, disused stable.To this day, though, and it always will remind me of our Lord’s birthplace, the stables in Bethlehem.

It made me feel so humbly exalted, if these are the right words to describe that humility, which I was privileged to have experienced during those early days of my life. This also has become my yardstick for the meaning of values in this life on earth as being so very short and only temporary. It confirmed my baptismal patron’s, Saint Stanislaus motto, which claims that all humans are born for far greater purpose than is realized.

When our family got inside the stable, to shelter from the cold, Mother put a couple of eiderdowns on the straw. The whole family survived like that for the following weeks of our stay there.The fast running river nearby, though frozen in most places, was our source of water supply.The water was red from the silt sipping in from the surrounding hills. It had to stand still in a bucket to settle down before it could be used.

Mother had found some kind of edible leaves, which were like sorrel, so she would make soup out of them to feed our family.It must have been mid-week, one sunny day, in the early spring. I took my younger sister Irena outside for a walk. As we were just outside the old folks’ part of the barn, I'd noticed that their doors were completely opened. I could smell an out of this world, appetizing smell of freshly baked bread. When I took a pip, I could see a simple baking oven by which both of the elderly couple was sitting. That sight hypnotized me, so both Irena and I just stood there, almost eating that bread with our eyes before it was even baked.

The old woman must have noticed the two youngsters standing there. She beckoned to us, inviting to come in.Soon after, she took the freshly baked flat bread, broke it in two and gave one-half to me. I thanked her with a nod of my head and a big smile. Holding Irena by the hand, I ran back with half of loaf of bread under my arm to share it with the rest of our family.Though it was not much, it killed off the desperate hunger for a little while.

The generosity of those natives will forever stay in my memory. It’ll be an example to for me to follow. They shared their only loaf of survival bread -during the war- with complete strangers.

“For I was hungry and you fed me”. They both must be in heaven. They had showed compassion and love for their fellow man. They will also stay forever in my heart and in my prayers.

Experiencing constant hunger and cold, we were forever praying for some kind of a miracle.Our prayers had certainly helped us to sustain our hardship, which we were going through.Unexpected, one evening, when we were all almost dying of hunger, a miracle took place in form of a large chunk of meat brought by our father.How else, if not by a miracle, did he manage to get some fresh meat? It was nourishing food, which none of us had eaten for many weeks?

After learning about the generosity of the Kirghis, next door, father took a piece of that precious meat to them. Another good bond of human traces was cemented.A few more, uneventful, depressing days have passed, also in hunger.Then, the snow outside began to melt very rapidly.

I remember running out to listen to the heavy rumbling cavalcades of ice float coming down from the mountains. I just stood there by the river’s bank motionless, just mesmerized by nature’s beauty and its power.

In the distance, even the snow white buds of cotton, hanging on to their stems; remnants from the previous year were warming the surrounding countryside by reflecting the sun’s rays from the clear, sunny sky above.Spring was in the air. Life was budding all around.

Domestic animals were beginning to graze on the new, fresh green pastures and luscious grass.

The swallows zigzagged in the air with that sparkle of spring on their wings; as if to add some colours to the gray sparrows happily chirpings around.Yes, the spring was everywhere, over the mountains and the valleys below. It was in the silver ripples of the water of the rivers, upon the fields and in the blues sky above.