Child of a KATYN victim
My name is Witomila Wołk Jezierska. I am the daughter of Lieutenant Wincenty Witold Wołk of the Heavy Artillery Battalion, who was a lecturer at the Mazovia School of Air Artillery in Zambrow. My mother, Ojcumila nee Gancarz, is the daughter of Ferdinand Gancarz, who was a Major in the Regiment in Przemysł, and a Doctor of Medecine. My parents were married in 1938 and, at the end of August 1939, they parted forever.
My mother was able to escape Poland to Romania, with her father. In 1939, my grandfather ran a veterinary hospital. On September 17, he was going from Przemysł to the eastern border, at the very moment that the Red Army invaded, and ended up in Kołomyja. Realizing that it was not possible for him to join my father in Włodzimierz Wolynski, he and my mother decided to cross the border via Kuty to Romania, where I was born in January 1940.
My father, who was stilI in Włodzimierz Wolynski, learned about my birth but that was our last contact with him.
When my father had learned about the draft, he had sent my pregnant mother to her family in Przemysł. On September 6th, the Mazovia School was evacuated from Zambrow to Włodzimierz Wolynski, where the first officer cadet school of Wolyn was located. There, during the night of the 19th to the 20th of September, they were taken prisoner by the Red Army, along with the large garrison. My father was later transferred to the Kozielsk Camp, and was executed in Katyn on ApriI 30, 1940.
At one point, the prisoners of war in the camps were allowed to write one letter per month to their families. Of course, they all searched for their families, as did my father. We can assume that my father wrote to his mother, who lived in Lóżki with her family, near Cisna, in northern Poland.
We know that he wrote to Przemysł, and it was most likely from Przemysł that he got my mother and grandfather's address in Rumania. This was not the first letter from my father.
My mother found his address in Kozielsk first and had written to him about my birth. My father sent a postcard, at the very last moment, in reply to her letter. I don't know how my mother found my father's address in Kozielsk, but I was born on January 22, 1940, and she wrote to my father soon after about it and what I was named.
Witomila - where did such a beautiful name come from?
lt is a combination of my father's name, because he was called Witek, and the short form of my mother's name Mila. That is how the name Witomila carne about and it made my father very happy.
My father managed, at the very last moment, to send a postcard to my grandfather's address in Rumania. The postcard is dated March 6, 1940. Soon after, an order was issued prohibiting any incoming or outgoing correspondence. In this postcard my father wrote that he and his colleagues are very happy about my birth. He also wrote that they would return to a free Poland for my baptism, and we really counted on this.
My father and his colleagues had also been discussing what would be my name. He wrote that they had come up with the name Bozena, but that he was very happy that I was given the name Witomila.
My mother waited with my baptism. In fact, I was baptized when I returned to Poland as a 5-year-old girl. I have 3 names: Witomila Maria Bozena. I was baptized in the Przemysł Cathedra! and I remember my baptism very well, because I responded to all the questions myself.
When I was in Przemysł several years ago, visiting Archbishop Michalik, he showed me the baptismal font. We talked about my baptism, which was a strangely sad event.
What were the consequences of my father searching for us from the POW camp? He did not know that we ended up in Romania. So he kept writing to his mother to Lozki near Cisna. He also wrote to Przemysł. As it turned out, the consequence of these inquiries was the deportation of my father's entire family: my grandmother, along with the children, from Lozki. lt is interesting that only one of my father's sisters avoided deportation, because she was not in Lozki - she had gone somewhere with a horse cart.
Many members of my mother's family in Przemysł were also deported to the USSR. Przemysł was split between the German and the Soviet occupation. All those under Soviet occupation were deported, either to Kazakhstan or to the North Pole region. They were deported on April 13, 1940 - this certainly indicates that they were deported on the Katyn order.
I don't know the name of the place where my father's mother was sent. They did manage to leave this 'wonderful' land with Anders Army, and they never returned to Poland. They all settled in England or in Canada. This applies to both sides of my family; those from my father's side and those from my mother's side - all who found themselves within the Soviet sphere of control.
My grandfather, as a major of the Polish Army, crossed the Polish-Rumanian border, based on an agreement between Poland and Romania that had been singed many years earlier. Romania guaranteed internment camps for Polish officers. As a veterinary doctor, my grandfather did not have to stay in the camp, but he did have to report on a regular basis. The internment camp was mandatory for all active officers .
The internment camps were located in attractive locations, which were not used during the war by the Rumanians. These were places like Trigoviszte and Baylegovoraj. From what I understand from my aunt, who was also with my grandfather, as well as from my grandfather's recollections, the top officials of the Government of Poland were held in these internment camps.
We stayed in Romania to the end of the war. Once, du ring the war, my family attempted to return to Poland but was stopped at the border. My grandfather brought me back to Poland on August 15, 1945, along with my mother and her sister. We crossed the border at Sanok, and traveled to Przemysł, because the entire family had lived in Przemysł for many years before the war.
My godfather offered us an apartment in Przemysł. We stayed there, but my grandfather did not want to serve in the PRL army, so he left Przemysł in search of a civilian job as a veterinary doctor, and we settled in Warmia.
Regarding our search for my father: the postcard was the last, and no further correspondence followed, I think that my grandfather closely followed all the news regarding this matter. In June 1943, my father's name appeared on the list of Katyn victims. I later found the same information in Polish newspapers..
My grandfather did not tell my mother about seeing father’s name on the list. She learned about my father's death after returning to Poland, from some family papers and letters. She went through this trauma only after the war.
I was waiting because all the small children who played together in Rumania - there was several of us there - assumed that we would go to Poland and wait for our fathers. I was waiting for my father.
One evening in Warmia, the doorbell rang. As a curious youngster watching from the staircase, I saw an officer came to the house, wearing an overcoat and a military cap. lt obviously had to be my father, right? This dreamed-about father.
Unfortunately, it turned out that it was my grandfather's brother, who had survived the entire war in a German POW camp for officers and came to see his brother. That is how my waiting for my father ended. lt occurred to me that beside this grand-uncle, no one else would show up.
I don't recall whether someone actually told me directly that my father had died at Katyn. My grandfather often listened to radio London, and I remember listening from behind the door. Those characteristic sounds like bum bum, or something like that. One day there was a long program about Katyn, about the Katyn forest. This caused a great fear in me. For a young chiId, a forest is associated with something secretive, bad. Hence, grandfather never told me about it.
I can't explain it, but it all consisted of some vague hints. Katyn was never discussed in school.
lt was probably said directly by my grandfather. He said that I was forbidden to ever deal with any political matters, that my sole duty was to study and to become someone in life. These were my grandfather's directives.
Long after my graduation from high school, 1 learned that my grandfather had told my history teacher about my father having been killed at Katyn. However, I think that everyone in the town knew that my father had been killed at Katyn. One day, a man who carne from my father's town showed up. He blackmailed my mother. She had trouble keeping her job because that man was her superior. This was the kind of harassment that she experienced.
The principals of my school were high-ranking members of the Communist Party. They most likely did not know. I think the school did not know. But when it comes to my mother and grandfather, it was known.
I did not necessarily realize what had happened, but rather I felt the lack of my father. I felt this loss the most, after my grandfather's death in 1972. He was an exceptional man, a great intellectual, who wrote beautiful poetry, knew Greek and Latin, and was fluent in German. I only got involved in this matter after his death, and talked openly about Katyn whenever it was possible to do so.
For a long time I could not bring myself to read the Katyn list. I don't remember the year, but it was after my graduation from university, and I was already an adult. I was working as a conservator and asked for newspapers from 1943, and I searched for my father's name. I found him listed under the June date - the newspaper showed it was approximately June 27. lt was like reading my father's obituary.
I went to Katyn on April 5th 1989. This was the greatest shock that I ever experienced in my life. That is when I wrote poems dedicated to my father. From that moment, I began to immerse myself in the question of his last journey from Zambrow to Katyn. I wrote a book called The Untold Story of the Katyn Crime.
Analyzing all available documentation, analyzing the memoir of Prof. Swianiewicz, I carne to discover the date that my father was shot. lt was on April 30, 1940.
Swianiewicz describes this day very well - a beautiful April morning, sunny, with birds singing - while they were led to their death at Katyn.
From that time, I have strived to make sure that this crime is accounted for. The one thing that I have to achieve is to make sure that my father's remains - and I know where, in what place, in what row, in what layer, they are buried in Katyn - that they are returned to Poland.
My mother and father met in 1934, and married in 1938. They had one year of marriage. lt was a nice year because there were several families of young officers in Zambrow, and they all were good friends. All this quickly ended.
I don't know what my mother went through as a young person, she was just 23 years old when my father was murdered. The only sign of this very deep trauma is the fact that - although she was a very attractive lady, great looking, very elegant - she never married again. From the time I started working towards justice for Katyn, she has participated in everything. All petitions, all correspondence, are done jointly with my mother - corrections, comments, recollections, this is my collaboration with my mother.
Now she is 95 years old. I think my mother is waiting. She is waiting, not only for the decision of the Strasbourg TribunaI, but she is also waiting for him - for his return, now only as his remains. This will be the fulfillment - the fulfillment of a lifetime. These fifty and more years of waiting for him. Maybe she will live to see it happen.