Excerpts of his Autobiography
Childhood and early adolescence in Wołyn (1924-1939)
I was born September 25, 1924 in a place ca1led Rogacz, which was situated approximately 3 kilometers northwest of the village of Czudla in the Shire of Rafalowka.
My father was John (1877-1933), Mother was Anastazja (1885-1951) whose maiden name was Jankiewicz from the village of Choromce. She gave birth to four sons:
Bernard (born in 1919 - in 1941 he was conscripted into the Russian army and was lost in action with no details available regarding the circumstances of his death).
Franciszek (1921 -1928)
Władysław (1924) and I am living in Australia.
My father was a Ranger, originally in a State forest. After the First World War this forest was privatized and the owner was Pruszynski. He kept Dad on as the forest range. The position included Rogacz, which was an estate on which the ranger and his family could live. Both before and during the Second World War until July 1943, we lived in Poroda Warszawska approximately 4 kilometers from the town of Wlodziumierzec. We owned a farm.
When I was nine years old, my father died. My brother, Anthony became the Ranger. When I was four years old, my father purchased a farm consisting of 11 hectares of land, from a person named Pikut, from the village of Poroda Warszawska. My father built the homestead and all the necessary farm buildings. The farm also had an orchard which was fenced in by fence palings. We kept a large number of beehives in the trees in the orchid.
My mother wanted to have a little girl and dressed me as a girl until I was four years old. Mother told me that I was breast fed until I was four years old. I remember my Father from when I was seven years old. He was a ranger in the State forests and patrolled the forests with dogs. I remember him going out on patrol with rosary beads wrapped around has forearm, a revolver in his belt and carrying rifle from World War One.
My father suffered from asthma. We would go to the forest and cut down pine tree saplings, which we would bring home. We had built a small hut in the orchid and we would place these cuttings in them. Dad would sit in the hut and inhale pine tree vapors to relieve his lungs. I enjoyed going to the forest with Dad until I was about eight years old when he became bedridden and could not go to the forest anymore.
I remember that Dad had special medicine brought in for him from Gniezna. Father died when I was nine years old, we buried him at the cemetery at Wlodzimierzec. I remember there were many people at the funeral. As a sign of respect the parish priest, Father Dominic Wawrzynowicz sent four funeral flags. I remember we followed the funeral cart for approximately 4 kilometers to the church at Wlodzimierzec . As we approached the church, the church bells commenced to toll. The church was full of people. After the service, Father Wawrzynowicz led the procession to the cemetery approximately 1 km away and the entire congregation followed and sang funeral hymns.
I attended primary school in Osowik. My teacher was Jadwiga Czerwinska. I did not attend secondary school because I had to work on the farm. After Dad died, my brother Anthony was given the position of ranger. He taught me all about bee keeping. We would drag beehives up into the trees around the farm and fix them into the trees.
Luckily I liked climbing trees very much. On the farm, my chores included working in the fields with horses and other activities associated with garden farming. It was also my job to take the horses out to pasture. I did not mind because I enjoyed riding
I remember the death of the president of Poland, the Marszałek Jozef Piłsudski. I visited with the Dobrowolski family in Osowik, to listen to radio broadcasts about the death and funeral of this Statesman. We all cried over this tragedy.
My brother Joseph and I were in the scouts. My brother Bernard belonged to "Strzelec", which is a higher level of scouts who carry firearms. We had many interesting and enjoyable experiences learning songs. One song I remember in particular, "Plonie Ognisko w Lesie" which means a campfire burns in the forest. It tells of a group of scouts camping the night in the forest.
I enjoyed ice skating and snow skiing. I also enjoyed roaming through the forest searching for mushrooms and wild berries. I remember once being in the forest searching for mushrooms and I got lost. I had great difficulties finding my way until I remembered Mum telling us that it is possible to tell where north is by observing the bark of trees and eventually, I got out. My mother was always worried about us and was pleading for us not to wander in the forests alone.
I could write a great deal about my mum. She was the only woman in our family as we had no sister, which is probably why we did not always understand her. Generally, during evening time, mum would spin yarn on a spinning wheel and she would sing songs to us. She would sing both religious songs and folk songs.
Mum was a good cook, I remember her potato pancakes, potato dumplings, pancakes, stuffed cabbage leaves, she would bake bread and she made delicious soups. Sometimes mum would ask me to bring water from the well. Our well was made from concrete with a crane device to lower and extract the bucket. Occasionally, when mum was not at home, I would raid the pantry and drink the fruit juice that mum had made and was storing there.
In our orchard, we had many different types of fruits. Sometimes mum would ask us to pick some fruit and take them to the town of Wlodzimierz to sell. Sometimes we would pick extra fruit and use the money we got for that fruit to buy things like a rubber ball or a cap gun. No doubt mother knew what we were up to because how else could we explain, for instance, a rubber ball that was not there before.
Mother worked very hard. In addition to working in the fields she tended a large garden and looked after our pigs, cattle and chickens. With the passing of time, I know that we boys did not appreciate how hard she worked and how much she did for us.
During harvest time, we would tie rye into bundles and stand them in stacks in the fields to dry. The rye resembles wheat and it was harvested by hand using a scythe to cut the rye stalks about ten centimeters from the ground. The scything was done by hand by the women in the village. Polish women would sing Polish songs while Ukrainian women would sing Ukrainian songs.
When it came time to harvest potatoes, Polish women would use mattocks while Ukrainian women would use shovels. My brother Josef and I would gather the potatoes into baskets and pour the potatoes into horse drawn carts. This was hard work.
We also helped Anthony with planting trees in the forest. When planting season was approaching by brother Anthony would pick 30 people, both men and women, and assign specific areas where trees would be planted. I always took part in this activity. I made a special tool that was like a lance. I would spear it into the ground to make a hole for the seedling and a helper would plant the seedling into that hole. Anthony would check to make sure that the seedlings had been properly planted. When we returned a few months later, we would find that all the seedlings we planted had started to grow.
While my father was alive, we had helpers on the farm, a shepherd called Wasyl and a lady called Paraska who was our housekeeper. We had another man who was a general hand but I can't remember his name. After my father died these people returned to the village.
Russian and German occupation and Ukrainian murders (1939-1943)
In1939, the Russians came to Wolyn. The Ukrainians welcomed them. In the town of Wlodzimerz, the Ukrainians built ceremonial gates to welcome the Russians. The Russians started to arrest Polish officers. Amongst those arrested was Jan the son of Bendykt Zarczynski who was my father's brother. Jan was a retired lieutenant in the Polish army and was working as the head ranger in Kamnien Koszynskim in Polesie. The Russians took him and we heard he was killed in Russia in a place called Katyn, where 15,000 Polish officers were executed.
When the Russians entered Wlodzimerz, Jamroz and Maydzik, who were members of the local constabulary, came to our house to hide. My mother was terrified but she kept them overnight, she fed them and gave them food for their journey to Hungary, back to where they came from.
The Russians ordered children back to school and made learning Russian reading and writing compulsory. I went to school for only three months, but remember some Russian even today.
My brother Bernard was working in the forest. His job was to write invoices for logs to be transported to the sawmill. I got work there also, doing the same type of work. I was given a numbering machine for printing numbers on the logs that were leaving the forest. This machine had a number of sequences and each sequence related to the weight of the logs.
I worked with some Jewish surveyors from Wlodzimierz. They measured the cubic volume of each log to determine how much wood was being marketed. Then they would tell me what number to stamp on the log. The logs differed in size and each size had a different numbered sequence. The Jews were not particularly nice to me, either in the forest or in the office. On one occasion, I went to the canteen at Rafalow, and when I walked in, I greeted them in Polish and one of the surveyors asked me in Russian why I was not speaking Russian. I did not reply but left the canteen.
People from the area were being deported to Siberia, but we were not included. My brother Bernard was conscripted into the Russian army in 1941. We know he served in Połtawa but then all trace of him vanished. I got Bernard's job in the forest.
Each day I had to walk 5 kms there and 5 kms back. I left home very early in the dark and I was afraid for my safety. By the time I reached the forest, carts were loaded with logs and waiting for me to process the paperwork.
After unloading at the sawmills, some carts would return to the forest to get more logs and we would hitch a ride home with them. On the last occasion I left the forest, I could hear cannon fire and after a few days the German solders arrived, bringing the eastern front to Poland. The year was 1941 and I was seventeen years old.
The Germans attacked on 22 June 1941, so the Russians left Poland and the Germans took over. The Ukrainians now welcomed the German troops. The Germans told the Ukrainians "You give us bread and meat and we will give you your Ukraine". The Germans issued Ukrainian currency called "karbowance". The Ukrainians were given the best jobs by the Germans. The Ukrainians filled all the government jobs, police, and administrative positions.
The Ukrainians also helped the Germans round up Jews and Poles. In Wlodzimierz, the Ukrainians hung up banners proclaiming, "Sabath for the Jews, Sunday for the Polish and for the Ukrainians, there will be weddings". (Meaning celebrations, music, food, drink, like at a wedding).
The Ukrainians imposed very high taxes on the Poles. They closed all the flour mills and oil pressing mills. This forced the people to make their own devices to make flour and oil, which was highly illegal. I went into the forest with my brother and we cut down an oak tree to make a press for extracting oil from grain. I was secretly making oil. The Mayor Pampuszyk also found out about this and came out to investigate. I hid the press under a tarpaulin but he told me he knew what I was up to because my neighbors had told him. So I uncovered the press. I was very concerned because if I was reported I could be imprisoned. Instead, the Mayor asked me to press some oil for him. Of course, I agreed and we arranged that he would send his daughter over to collect the oil. Pampuszyk was a First World War veteran and he and his family lived about half a kilometer from us. I went to school with his son Janek. I made oil for us, the neighbors, and the Mayor, and then I hid the oil press in the shed and produced no more oil because it was too risky with so many people knowing about this illegal activity.
I started to work as a barrel maker. I inherited a large number of tools from my grandfather, which I now used to make barrels, baths, buckets, butter churns, etc. I had an arrangement with my neighbor Szadurski from Osowik. I would make these items and he would take them to Wlodzimierz and trade them for grain. We would then divide the grain between us.
The Germans were ambushing lads and girls and, those that were caught, were transported to Germany as forced labour. On one occasion, I and Stefan and Marian Szumski were also captured. We were ordered to stand in line with other lads who had been captured. There were about 15 of us. Then we were told to stack hay onto haystacks. I climbed on top of the hay stack and was being handed the hay which was being unloaded from wagons. We worked for about 4 hours.
After a while, I realized that some of the lads had escaped, so I slid down into the wagon which was being driven by a Polish bloke. He told me to run away because there were no guards around at that time. To get home, I had to sneak through the town. I did not see any guards, so I ran home which was about 4 kms away.
ABOUT THE JEWS
The Germans and Ukrainians set the Jews to digging graves. These graves were in a disused shooting range beside an access road about halfway between Wlodzimierz and our home in Poroda. I saw these graves whilst they were still empty. There were four of them, one beside the other, each about 50 meters by 8 meters and about 2 meters deep.
All the Jews in the area were herded to Wlodzimierz and penned up in corrals closed in with barbed wire under the open sky. The area was a disused market place and was about half a kilometer square. One week after digging the graves, on 28 August 1942, the Jews were marched to the graves by Ukrainian and German guards, where they were all shot.
They filled three ditches and half of the forth. I am not sure of the exact number of Jews that were shot, but I have a vague recollection that it was said that about 3,500 Jews were slaughtered in these ditches. This was about 2 kms from our homes and we could hear all the gun fire. The Ukrainian guards covered the bodies by hand, shoveling clods of earth over the corpses. I know for a fact that there were no Polish people involved in these actions.
The winter of 1941
The winter of 1941 was severe. Temperatures reached minus 42C, and trees in the forest were exploding from the cold. There was a shortage of food and fuel for fires. The snow was over a meter deep.
Stefan, Czeslaw, Marian Szumski, and I decided to go the forests on skis to see if we could hunt some food. We went on a sunny wintry day to the Pruszynski Forest, which bordered with our farm. We came across five deer, which we chased. They ran through the forest until they were so tired they could run no more.
The deer were breaking through the crust of the snow and sinking down to their bellies, while we on skis were skimming over the top, so the deer became exhausted within about 20 minutes. The smallest deer stopped and so did I. I stayed with this one whilst the other lads chased after the remaining four deer.
They chased down two deer, which they killed and carried back to where I was. They killed this one and lifted it onto my shoulders. I carried it back for about 2 kms and it nearly killed me from exhaustion. In the fields just outside our village, we buried the deer in the snow. Then we skied home, which was about a kilometer away. We hitched up our horse and cart and, when it was dark, we returned to the buried deer with my brother Joseph. We left two deer with the Szumskies and took one for ourselves. This was very risky business but we got away with it and we had meat for the next few weeks.
Despite the fact that poaching of game from the forest was forbidden, we took the risk of being arrested and imprisonment. We were driven by our hunger, which at that time overpowered the fear of capture.
Growing Threat (1942-1943)
The hamlet of Poroda was a collection of farms and houses scattered over an area 2 kms by 3 kms. In our corner of the village there were about seven houses clustered within only about 400 meters of each other. Ukrainian gangs had started to attack Polish residents, so we arranged ourselves into vigilante groups for protection.
One time when I was on guard duty, I caught a sever flu which developed into pneumonia. I was too weak to move and I lay in bed fearing that these gangs would kill me. My mother and my brother Joseph stayed with me, to treat me and protect me. These gangs were getting more and more brazen. On 9 February 1943, they attacked a nearby village and slaughtered everyone.
My health was improving slightly and mum wanted us to move to Choromce, where her sister Jadzia Malawska lived. I pleaded not to move there yet, and Joseph suggested that we go to Jankiewicz in Grabine. We had close contact with him over the years and we thought it might be safer there. Mother stayed at home alone while Joseph and I went to Grabine. To reach Grabine, we had to go through a large Ukrainian village called Zolkinie. There was no room for us in Grabine, so we went to Roman Zarczynski to seek shelter, but again there was no room for us. The Polish partisan movement had recovered about 20 horses that the Ukrainian gangs had taken from plundered villagers and was stabling them with Roman. He suggested that we take these horses because he had no feed for them
We had to decide what to do; we stayed one more night with Roman in Grabine and decided to return home through Zolkinie. We took one horse from Roman and hitched it behind our cart for the trip home. We waited for the sun to set and made our way through Zolkinie in the dark. Joseph made the horses gallop through the village and luckily, we were not stopped by anyone.
After we got home, we decided to go to Choromce where my mother's family lived. We took along our cow, which was gladly accepted for the milk. We were made welcome there and we never returned to our home. It was an early spring in 1943. People were coming in from surrounding villages and the place was filling up. Women and children slept in the houses, while the men slept in the hay in outbuildings. I was nineteen years old.
We made spears from thick wire, which we sharpened and fixed into wooden handles. We used these as weapons while we were on guard duty, guarding ourselves and our neighbours. Our group numbered about 20-30 persons and we worked together to protect ourselves.
In the meantime, danger was increasing. Both day and night we could see the glow of fires in the skies. Polish people were being murdered by the Ukrainians just because they were Polish. Before this, the Ukrainians and the Poles were friends and neighbors. Now they were killing us, robbing our property, smashing and burning the building,s and stealing our land. The whole village at Brzezina was wiped out on 7 April 1943. A few survivors reached Choromce. We found out that some of our relatives, the Zarczynski family of 5, had been murdered. I remember a girl, Helena Dolmaradzka who was brought into our village suffering from stab wounds. She had been stabbed in the back sixteen times by a Ukrainian neighbour using a bayonet. We treated her at Choromce and she survived. Three Polish families escaped from the Ukrainian village of Dlugowola and came to Choromce. The defense of Choromce grew, as the organization of security and armaments improved. We were building bunkers, digging trenches, and making stockades. All the while, the threat of an attack by the Ukrainians was growing. I was assigned to a group to unify the defensive efforts of Poles in the surrounding villages. I was provided with a French rifle and 10 bullets. My mother knew nothing about this.
On Easter Saturday, 24 April 1943, an order came from the chief of the local Partisan group for all Polish able-bodied men to gather out on the street. It was a moonlit night and everyone lined up in pairs. Each pair was placed so they could just make out the pair in front and behind. The password was "Shovel" and the answer was "Chair". There were 12 pairs in front of me. I was joined by some youth whom I did not know, and together we made the 13th pair. Behind us there was a further 14 pairs. We were ordered to march out. We marched silently through the village of Prurwa, then Kopaczowka, and then Wydymerz, a total of about 6 kms.
We surrounded a Ukrainian homestead and placed ourselves so we were all within sight of one another. I was told to go inside and speak only Russian. When I entered the room, I immediately noticed that there was a Ukrainian lying on the floor. I said in Russian "Otday oruzyje" which means give up your gun. He replied that he does not have any guns and repeated this a number of times.
I noticed that the lads were taking things out of the house such as tablecloths, curtains, towels. I went into the pantry and noticed a woman sitting with her daughter and both were crying. I asked the woman to give the partisans some bread and something to eat with the bread. She handed over two loaves of bread and a cut of meat. I went back into the house and asked the Ukrainian whether he had any vodka. He got up and went outside where he retrieved a bottle of homemade vodka from under a bush.
An order came for the group to assemble, so we went to the neighboring house that was empty. On the way, we heard galloping horses. We ran to the edge of the fores,t where we prepared an ambush in the ditches on either side of the road.
Fortunately for us, the Ukrainian gang did not use this road, otherwise we would all be dead. There were only about 30 of us, and at least a 100 of them, probably more. We sat concealed in the ditches for about an hour and then marched to Perespa.
When we got into Perespa we were billeted in different houses. The house where I was sent happened to belong to cousins who I had never seen before. I fell to the floor exhausted and fell asleep. I was woken by our group leader, who ordered us to move out. I thanked my cousins for their hospitality and left. We were not told where we were going. We marched through fields and forests and avoided the roads. On the way, we burnt abandoned farms houses and buildings, to clear the way for the patrols maintaining security for the unified Polish villages. We returned to Choromce and my mother was distressed that I had joined the Polish partisan movement. Easter was a very sad one.
Some weeks later, a group of about 30 partisans arrived. They had been involved in a battle in Brzezinie, with a Ukrainian gang of about 200. No partisans perished because they employed guerrilla tactics and fought from the surrounding forests. I met Władysław Jarusinski and W Austyryjo, who had deserted the Russian partisans and brought their weapons with them. They were concealed in the village of Choromce. The Ukrainian gangs were getting closer and closer, we could see the fires from burning buildings and smoke and ash was settling on our rooftops.
During the night a group of partisans came into the village. We were suspicious that they might be a Ukrainian gang, but we fed them and gave them food to take with them. They demanded that we transport them 20 kms to Huta Sopaczewska. Our Commander Franciszek Jankiewicz ordered us to give this group a lift. My brother Joseph and I were very afraid but there was nothing we could do to avoid this job. Joseph harnessed the horses and we left with six other carts transporting the partisans. We had to pass through Ukrainian settlements, so we traveled at night and we were lucky enough to avoid being seen. On the way back we had to return through the same Ukrainian villages. Those at the front of the convoy galloped their horses through the village, leaving behind those at the rear.
Joseph was separated for his group and got lost. He had to pass through another Ukrainian village and was afraid to continue on in the dark, so he pulled over and waited until daylight. In the meantime, five carts returned to Choromce but no Joseph. It was still dark and there would have been time to go back to search for Joseph, but no one was willing to join me. I went to my cousin Frank Jankiewicz and begged him to come with me. I was upset with Frank because it was his orders that put Joseph in this predicament and he did not want to help. I waited six hours and eventually at 8:00 am Joseph arrived. He was distraught. He was shattered and spooked. This was a traumatic experience for him and after this, he was never the same again.
After a few weeks, the village of Stachowka was attacked. This was about 10 kms from Choromce. When we received this news, we gathered together about 20 wagons to rescue the survivors. We journeyed there through the Ukrainian village of Dubowka.
Choromce could not count on assistance from neighboring villages. The Ukrainian gangs had already attacked most. This meant we had to rely on ourselves, so we continued to strengthen our defenses. We built barricades, dug ditches and implemented other strategic measures to facilitate the defense of Choromce. In desperation, we turned to the Germans for assistance. The Germans agreed, and all we had to do was to let them know when help was required. They even gave us four Russian rifles and some ammunition to help our defense efforts. In return, the Germans required us to patrol the road between Wlodzimierz and Antonowka and to keep this road open. Now, in total, we had about 14 firearms, some were shotguns, some of these had sawn-off barrels which reduced their range. Because of this agreement with the Germans, we did not have to conceal our weapons.
About mid-July in 1943, the Ukrainian gangs attacked and destroyed the village of Huta Stepanska. This was the largest village in the district and the battle last for three days. Some of my relatives survived this battle and eventually made their way over to Choromce. These included my Aunt Fela, Uncles Florek and Kazio Burzynski. Uncle Kasio told me that he and Czesław Piotrowski fought long and hard against the Ukrainians but there were too many of them and because of that, we in Choromce will not be able to survive a Ukrainian attack. This prediction did not come true because we all survived and we were there to the very end. My Uncle Kazio was even able to mortally shoot the commander of one Ukrainian gangs.
By July 1943 in district of Sarny practically all the Polish villages were gutted and destroyed. There remained only a few villages in the area surrounding Choromce and Antonowki where the locals were defending themselves desperately. The Ukrainians were planning their final assault to defeat these last pockets of resistance. The villagers
were traumatized and did not know what to do. The seemed to be no way their destruction could be avoided. The villagers gathered in churches and around shrines to pray for deliverance. They prayed and sang so loud, they could be heard by the Ukrainians.
When we arrived, we found that the Stachowka villagers had defended themselves very well. A large number of Ukrainians had been killed and five had been captured. Eighty-five Stachowka villagers had also died. The survivors did not wish to leave their houses and belongings and would not come back to Choromce. In some cases, the survivors hid in the nearby fields to avoid our attentions. In the end we returned to Choromce alone. On our return trip, we had to pass through the Ukrainian village of Dubowka again. We had put ourselves at great risk carrying out this so-called rescue mission, but it was in vain.
On the following day, Stachowka was attacked again. This time the rest of the buildings were burnt down and again some villagers died. There was a group of about 20 Polish partisans from Poroda who came to help. They attached the Ukrainian gang from behind as they were retreating. The surviving Stachowka villagers went to the villages of Porada and Prurwa.
One evening towards the end of July 1943, I was on guard duty with Janek Debicki about a half a kilometer away from the village of Choromce. A light rain was falling and while sitting on a fence beside the shed of Janek Jankiewicz, I heard something rustling in the oats. We suspected that it was a Ukrainian gang, so we ran back to Choromce to warn the guards of an attack by the Ukrainians. We brought back three guards to the location where we had heard the noises.
Now there were five of us, and everything was still and quiet. We started to doubt that we had even heard anything when suddenly the air erupted with the sound of automatic weapons, punctuated by the fire of singe shot weapons. The fields on either side of the road where we were standing were approximately one meter higher than the road and we suspect that this is the reason why the first volley from the Ukrainian shot over our heads.
At that same moment, the alarms went off in Choromce. The alarm was a makeshift device consisting of a piece of railway track suspended in the air by a wire and was struck with hammers. The moment the alarm went off the Ukrainians opened fire at the village from all directions.
We threw ourselves to the ground and our group leader roared at us to get off the road and into the rye cops. The road ran through a field where, on one side the Ukrainians were hiding in the oat crops and on the other side there was a rye crop. We ran through the rye field into another field where there was a potato crop growing. I was exhausted and terrified and my legs fell from under me. One of our group, Tolmek Tokarski came back for me and saved my life because the way I was feeling I would not have moved from where I fell and the Ukrainians would have found me and killed me.
Forced Labor in Germany (1943-1945)
The main reason why we survived the attacks on Choromce, was that the Germans arrived and turned the Ukrainians away with their superior fire power. The Germans then ordered us to abandon Choromce and go to Wlodzimierz, where they had a garrison and could offer us protection. So we followed orders and made our way to Wlodzimierz. We were attacked on the way but we finally we made it.
We stayed there for several weeks, in the grounds of the church. The Germans then ordered us to go to Antonowka where there was a railway that would take us to Germany. 300 refugees left to go to Antonowka, but we hardly made it outside the gates of Wlodzimierz when the Ukrainians attacked us again, so we retreated to Wlodzimierz. After two weeks, we told to go to Rafawovka. We made it by using back roads to avoid being seen by the Ukrainians.
Eventually we got from Rafalowka to Sarny by train. Then we were transported to Rowne, and then to Przemysl. Przemysl was under German occupation and any Polish refugees who were able to reach Przemysl were examined by the Germans for suitability for labour in Germany. Those not chosen remained in occupied Polish territory.
When we arrived in Przemysl, we were separated from the female refugees, and told to strip off and shower. In the meantime, our clothes were treated for lice in large ovens. After about 2 hours, the German staff and their helpers went to lunch. I got sick and was taken to hospital. In the meantime, a transport of prisoners was taken to Germany. I stayed because I was hospitalized and the Germans allowed my family to stay as well. There was my mother, brother Joseph, Aunt Jadwiga, Uncle Bronek, and maternal Grandmother Michalina. I was in hospital for two weeks and I survived. I was not eaten by the bed bugs, nor was I killed by the Ukrainian gangs.
After two weeks, I passed the medical and I was deemed suitable for deportation to Germany as forced labor. My family and I waited for our deportation in the barracks. Here we waited to see what the future would bring.
The conditions were primitive; we slept on straw on the floor. The straw was full of bed bugs and the food was inferior. My Aunt Jadwiga miraculously produced a jar of lard with pieces of salami in it to supplement the camp food. There was about four liters of this life saving gift which my auntie somehow managed to bring all the way from Choromce. At least two hindered kms away, at least six weeks of fleeing the Ukrainian gangs, and life in barracks and on the road. Marvelous!
The Journey to Germany - Summer of 1943
There was a trainload of workers and prisoners being taken from Russia to Germany, and my whole family was put on the same transport. The journey took four days. There were no facilities, nor was there any food. Once in a while, the train would stop in the fields and everyone would get off to answer the call of nature. Everyone would walk a few meters from the train and do their business. No one attempted to escape. When the train stopped for water, it was given to us in buckets.
We were taken to Dachau where we stayed for a month. The conditions were atrocious. It was filthy and there was very little food. From Dachau we were transported to Menachem. There, my whole family was unloaded and we just stood around. After a few hours, we were loaded on another train to Landsbergis where we were directed to the employment bureau. There were six of us, me, my Mother, brother Josef, Uncle and Aunt and Grandmother.
The Boss arrived on a tractor with rubber wheels. This tractor was normally used for transporting milk, but this time it transported us. We were told to get in and sit on the floor. He took us 11 kms to a farm called Minihoff. The farm had two buildings. One was the owner's residence - a Frau Doktor. This was a two storey building; on the lower level there was a barn where four horses were housed. She lived on the upper level where two rooms were assigned to my aunt and uncle and my grandmother and mother. In the other building lived the farm manager and his family. Nearby were pens for cows and a pen for pigs.
The owner fed us bread and butter and "moost" which is a mixture made with apple juice. Then they sent the four of us into the paddock to rake hay. This was autumn and sunset comes at about 8:30/9:00 pm. The rake had steel teeth. Our rakes in Poland had wooden teeth and were not as heavy. We worked until dusk when we were called in and fed. Dinner was good and we were sent to bed. We were woken at 4:00 am. ·
The owner was a Catholic and a good person. We did not speak a word of German. He showed us what he wanted us to do. Joseph was in charge of the horses. Mum and my grandmother were sent to the garden. My uncle, aunt, the two Ukrainian women from Russia, and I, were all taken into the fields. I was assigned to work on the tractor and other farm machinery.
Autumn was coming and a lot needed to be done on the farm. We worked hard, but at least the food was good. One morning, while we were eating breakfast, the owner, the Frau Doctor, walked in carrying a newspaper. She said that we were not to be fed full milk but skim milk.
In the spring of 1944, I was nearly twenty years old. I was taken to another farm to replace a Swedish worker who was taken into the army. I did not want to leave my family, but I had no choice. During the winter of 1944, mum got sick and they took her to a hospital in Sondorn. On the Sunday, we asked the farm manager if we could take the horses to go visit mum. There was a lot of snow and the hospital was 8 kms away, so it would have been difficult to walk. We were given the horses. When we visited mum she was very anxious. She was sick and she did not know the language or the people. On the way back, police stopped us. We were escorted back to the farm and the police reprimanded the manager and fined him 10 marks for giving Auslanders the horses. We were also fined 1O marks. The Police warned the manager not to give us horses anymore and that we were to remain in the fields working.
We were paid one mark a day, but as an Aulander we couldn't purchase anything. My only expenses were a haircut or a donation at church. It was from this money that we were able to pay the fine imposed on us by the Police.
Apart from working the farm machinery, it was also my job to milk the cows. At first, there were four then later six. I did not mind the milking because I was able to drink as much milk and cream, as I wanted. Each morning I would collect milk from the whole village and take it to the dairy. I had a liter mug and when I was going to the dairy, I would fill it up and drink it on the way.
After a few months, Joseph was assigned to look after the horses and Mum was given gardening tasks. Joseph was not keen but it was too late, as he had already been replaced by a Frenchman. Mum had to look after the cows and she had difficulties because they would not behave. Often Joseph and I would have to run across the farm to help Mum control the cows.
The Americans started bombing Germany. My boss was a member of the SA. This was the home guard. He was a senior officer and performed five functions; one of which was assigning Germans to the army. He proposed that I go as well, but I told him that I was taken to work on the farm and he left me alone. I was not designated as a prisoner but as a transportee from Russia because we carne to Germany in a Russia Transport, and that is why I was given the option to go to war. The boss was not popular in the village because he would send boys as young as 15 off to war. He was one of the more senior officials in the village and he was required to attend the funerals of men who died on the front.
The war was nearing the end and the Germans were not as cocky anymore. They stopped boasting that they had won the war. My boss was good to the foreigners. He listened to the gripes of the foreigners working on the farms and, if he determined that a worker was being badly treated, he would transfer the worker to another farm. The worker would be replaced and the farmer was warned that if there were more problems, then the workers would be taken away and not replaced.
Everyday there were American air raids. I remember once the Germans shot down a plane that crashed about 15 kilometers from the farm. 12 people parachuted from the falling plane. One of the crew landed about 300 meters from us in the forest. The boss found him and brought him back to the farm. He was not armed but had cigarettes and chocolate. He was tied to a wagon and taken to Entrachen, about 1km away. When he got there, there were already ten other Americans there. The boss took all the Americans to the prisoner of war camp. One American drowned in a lake, so altogether there were twelve. After the war we found out from some French labourers that all eleven Americans survived the prisoner of war camp..
The front was nearing Landsberg. The SS rang the mayor of the village and demanded that the village supply a tractor to Landsberg. The mayor rang my boss and told him to take his tractor there. The boss said that as a leader of the home army it was his job to defend against the Americans and anyway the tractor was broken. The mayor replied that he saw the Pole (that was me) driving the tractor on the previous day, so how could it be broken. The mayor said that the tractor better be delivered to Landsbergis or else the SS would pay him a visit.
My boss ran to the barn where I was working and together we sabotaged the tractor. We 'fixed' the ignition so the motor would not get a spark and the boss warned me not to tell anyone. I went back to work and the boss went into the house. Very shortly after, three SS men arrived on motor bikes. I was terrified. If they found out that we sabotaged the tractor they would shoot us on the spot. The SS were renowned for their brutality. Two SS men went into the house and the third stayed with the bikes. After a while, the two in the house come out and went to the barn to start the tractor, but it wouldn't start.
In the meantime, my boss came out of the house dressed in the SA uniform. The SS demand to know where is the Auslander. The boss called me over and tolds me to get the tractor started. I tried all sorts of things to make it look like I am trying to start it, and even one of the SS men gave me a hand. We even hitched up horses to the tractor and dragged it around the yard, but it would not start.
I can see that the SS and my boss are having an intense argument. I am terrified. In my head I'm trying to plan an answer, just in case I'm questioned about the tractor, or if I'm asked how come I drove the tractor to the dairy yesterday and today it won’t go. Next thing I see that both the SS officer and my boss have drawn their pistols and are pointing at each other. They are engaged in a vicious argument and then they re-holster their pistols. The SS prepare to leave but, before they go, they give the boss an ultimatum that he must deliver the tractor to Oberfinig in half an hour. After half an hour, the boss came home but we did not know what was said between him and the SS.
The original SS men did not return, but two others carne; one was wounded. They were determined to shoot us. The boss said they should think of the consequences from the Americans if they shoot. They listened and when they left, the boss vame over to me and told me the whole story. He shook my hand and we both started to cry from the sheer relief of having avoided death.
The Americans now reached Landsberg. They crossed the river in tanks because the bridges have been destroyed. The Germans were afraid. They dumped their uniforms; they left their homes and hid valuables sometimes in heaps of manure. But that wasn't the end of our problems. The Germans reported to the Americans that my boss was a paramilitary activist of the SA and that he was sending local youths to the war.
The next day the front carne right by us. We went onto the road and a tank pulled up. An American soldier jumps out and says to me, "are you Polish" I reply that I am, he says, "Which way did the Germans go?" We told him that only yesterday the German army had passed this way on its way to Monachium. The American jumped back into the tank and took off. The ground shook as he drove off. There were about twenty or thirty tanks.
We found out that when these tanks approach a village that was not flying a white flag, the Americans would fire on the village until it surrendered.
The end of the war
In May 1945, the war ended. There was great joy. Gunfire, celebrating the end of the war, went on all day. After this, we had three weeks of freedom. For three weeks there was no organization, no administration and you could get away with anything. After that, the Americans established control.
The French soldiers were going from house to house raping the German women. However not all the women were unwilling. Two Frenchmen carne to our farm and tried to rape our cook, but four other Frenchmen arrived and saved her. I thought that they were going to shoot each other, but cool heads prevailed and the would-be rapists ran off.
Fanny jumped up from the floor and with tears of gratitude started to kiss one of the Frenchman's hands. The boss fed the Frenchmen and, during their conversation, found out that the Germans had told the French about his being a paramilitary activist in the SA. The boss disappeared and we had no clue as to where he had gone.
On the next day, more French arrived, looking for German soldiers who may be hiding. On our farm, they set alight a wagon. I told them that there are people here who are in danger of being burnt. They helped me move the wagon but, by this time, it was nearly burnt. The French told us to get out and leave the house. I asked them to give us two hours to pack and they agreed.
We started to hitch horses to two wagons. One was for farm implements and the other for us. Before we left we chased the calves and pigs out into the fields because the French were threatening to burn the buildings. The cows were already in enclosures. The French were waiting and we only got about 300 meters away when all the buildings on the farm were burning.
We went on to Entrachem. We knew where the farm owner was, so we went to her and told her that we had a wagonload of her things She burst into tears of gratitude. We were hoping that she would provide shelter for us, but she said there was no room for us. She asked that we leave the wagon with her things in Entrachen. We asked what was going to happen with us as everywhere was full. I suggested to Joseph that we go to Oberfinig, to see the mayor there. So we went there, but he did not want to take us inl; he was the same bloke who had reported me to the SS that I was driving the tractor around the village delivering milk to the dairy.
It was getting dark and we still had no place to stay, so I went back to him and eventually I was able to convince him to take us in. We were told to take the horses and the wagon to the barn. Joseph, Wacek, and I, stayed in the barn with the horses and the wagon. Mum and Stefka were in the mayor's house.
On the next day, the mayor took us to the army barracks at Landsberg about 11 kilometers away. These barracks were already full of refugees. There were other nationalities there apart from Polish. On the way to Landsberg we saw a bicycle abandoned on the roadside. We stopped and I threw it in the back of the wagon and we continued.
The Americans set up the refugee camps. We were registered and assigned to rooms. Once we were in, there was nothing much to do, other than to just sit around and exchange the experiences we had all survived.
After a few days, Joseph and I went to Entrachen where we found the owner of the farm we had been working on and the cook Fanny. They had been staying with friends. The farm owner's wife asked that we go back to the farm and bring their cows to Entrachen and share them out to the farmers in town. So we went to our farm. When we got there, we found it had been burnt to the ground. We rounded up the cows, leaving the calves in the corrals. Then we herded the cows to Entrachen and gave them out like we were told.
The owner then asked me to go to the small town of Sondorm to tell the farm manager what we did. After this, we returned to the refugee camp at Landsberg. After a few days I went on the bike to Sondorm and took Farmy with me. We did not know the address of the manager, but he was about 8 kms out of town. He was living under cover with the local doctor. When we met him, he was very teary and very pleased to see us. He asked me to write a testimonial as to how he treated us on the farm. He thought that this would help him with the way the American would treat him. I agreed, but I told him I would not be coming back here again.
Fanny lived in Entrachen, which was on the way from Landsburg. So I rode to Entrachen to pick her up. Then we went to Sondorm. After we visited with the farm manager, I took Fanny back to Entrachen and then I rode to the refugee camp at Landsberg.
After I returned to the camp I wrote the testimonial. I made a list of the people that had worked there and went around the camp and collected their signatures. I collected 65 signatures and they willingly signed to testify that the manager was a good person and treated the workers well. After two weeks, the manager carne to the camp, but the guards would not let him in. I was called out to him. Again, he was very pleased to see me and was very teary. He pleaded with me to go with him to the Americans. I did not want to go, but I did give him the testimonial with the signatures.
After about three months, I went back to the farm at Fuchsof. I found that all the buildings had been rebuilt according to the original design. I found out that, thanks to my testimonial, the Americans made the Germans rebuild the farm and return all the machinery. The buildings were roofed with timber planks due to a shortage of building materials, but assurances had been given that the first production of roof tiles would be assigned to Fuchshof. The farm was totally restored with the exception of 15 cows that the French butchered for meat.
The manager greeted me very cordially. He invited me to come back to work for him. I told him I would not come. I told him I will remain in the camp with mother, brother, aunt, and uncle. I then returned to Landsberg. In a short while they started to close down the camps. Refugees were being transported to Russia and Poland. People who had collaborated with the Germans were escaping. We were taken to a refugee camp in Koburg. Originally, this was an army barracks for the Germans. Now, as a refugee camp, it housed approximately 5,000 people. This was a large camp run by the Americans. There was no leaving this enclosure. I met some 200 Polish underground army personnel who had been disarmed and captured. I joined them and took part in training with them that consisted mostly of calisthenics. One of the things we did was form a choir.
Training did not last long. I went to work to repair the fence and the wire mesh around the camp. There were all sorts in the camp; some would cut their way out, and rob and steal. They would even steal cattle and bring it back to the camp where they would butcher it and sell it to the other refugees. One night one of the rustlers even brought a cow into our block.
In the camp, there were many nationalities. Gangs sprang up. Gang warfare started up and there were brawls and gunfights. Law and order was very rough. If there was a brawl at a dance, the guards would rush in and fire their guns into the ceiling, the people would fall to the ground, which would distract them from their grievances. In the meantime, the band would not even miss a beat and the partygoers would get up and party again. Many refugees asked for transfers to other camps. I also asked for a transfer.
Eventually we were taken to a camp in Regensburg
American trucks transported us to Regensburg. There were about 30 of us per load and we all stood and sang folk songs and hymns. We were happy, because of our youth and because we had just survived a world war. I was only twenty-two.
There were many social functions in the camp. I became a member of the church choir that had 42 members. Mass was said in Latin it took us a year to learn to sing the entire mass in Latin. We learned the Saint Ludwig version of the sung mass. We rehearsed three times a week. The choir sang in four-part harmony. I was in the choir for four years and we sang the high mass every Sunday. The organist and choirmaster was called Brzozowski.
When emigrations commenced, the entire choir put their names down to go to America. I got work in an American engineers' office. It was my job to hold the measuring tape while the engineers took measurements. Sometimes we were out of the camp for days. We would be put up in hotels and we were fed the same food as the Americans.
I got pneumonia in Regensburg. I was hospitalized for two weeks in a hospital called Maryien Krankenhaus. When I recovered, I did not return to my job; I was sent to get a driver’s license for heavy vehicles, which I got. Then they transported the entire camp to Hoffenfeld.
We used to go on outings with the choir. We visited castles, towns, and we organized picnics. The choir was 42 strong. I had fantastic young friends and many acquaintances from near where I carne from in Poland. One time we went to the Danube River for a swim. I was afraid of the water because a while back I nearly drowned in the Słuczy River. The guys went in for a swim and I and Czesia Bardzinski watched. After about half an hour, everyone got out and started to get dressed. Antek, Czesia's brother, wanted to show what a good swimmer he was and went back in. He was caught in a current and drowned. There was no way he could be saved. After about an hour, the guards pulled his body out. This was a tragedy; he was only 20 years old and he and his family had survived the war only to die at a picnic. Everyone was gutted, the choir members were so upset they could not sing at the funeral.
Technical College (1946-1948)
The Choir was strewn across the entire camp. Mum, Joseph and I, and my aunt and uncle were in Błock 32. I was elected as the block leader. I did not like this job but I held it for over a year. I had many duties which included the distribution of groceries. I had no spare time and I missed out on evening walks and choir practice. I got tonsillitis and was hospitalized again. From then I kept getting relapses regularly. After a year as block leader, I was transferred to the dairy where the work was much easier. Within half an hour, three teams of us were able to distribute milk to 1500 people. After this, we could do what we liked.
I started attending the Technical College in Amberg. Originally, I commuted from Hoffenfeld, but after two months I got lodgings in Amberg. The instructor was a Pole. I passed with distinction and got a Gold Diploma in bricklaying and in bee keeping.The Hoffenfeld camp was made up of two parts. One part consisted of about 50 blocks. Each block housed about 100 people. The second part also had about 50 blocks. There was a valley between part one and part two of the camp and people met in the valley. The valley became known as the uniting valley.
After I returned to Hoffenfeld, my brother Jozef introduced me to Jadwiga Domalewski. She was bom in Karaczun, district of Kostopol. I had had a girlfriend, Henia Gawryliszyn; she liked me very much, she was the half-sister of my friend Robert Janicki and we sang together in the choir. Henia had emmigrated to England six months earlier.
The whole choir got a visa to Chicago but by this time, I had met and fallen in love with Jadwiga. In 1948, we were married. Jadwiga had had a boyfriend Marian Głowacki, whom she broke off with to marry me. We walked to chapel for the marriage ceremony. After the ceremony, there was a small family reception. We were lodged in the same room as my in-laws, Jozef and Kornela Domalewski and Jadwiga's brother Anastazy.
Jadwiga did not want to emigrate to America because her brother had a visa to Australia. I had to forego America and applied to go to Australia. In the meantime, my mum and brother Joseph were transferred to a camp in Wildflecken, where they waited for a visa to America.
The last time I saw my mother was in Monachium; we were waiting for visa clearance. This took nearly two months. She took my first-born son in her arms and was ecstatic. Tadzio was 4 months old then. We were in a transit camp in Monachium and then returned to Amberg where her visa application was postponed for 5 months.
I worked in the camp kitchen. The cook was a Hungarian. He and I cooked meals for 1500 people. Once, on a very hot day, I was hot and sweaty from the stoves, when the girls who did the washing up poured cold water on me. I got tonsillitis again and the swelling in my throat was so severe, it threatened to choke me. I was hospitalized in the IRO hospital. When I got better they sent me to a German hospital in Lichtenfels where I had the tonsils removed. Eventually I returned to Amberg and took over my duties in the kitchen again.
Emigration and a new life in Australia (1950)
The second time we carne up for appraisal we were given a visa to Australia. Jadwiga was pregnant with Edward, so we chose not to embark on a ship to Australia. I was not displeased because I was not keen on going to Australia. My in-laws were also not concerned that the trip to Australia had been delayed.
We emigrated to Australia by plane. We took advantage of an American army flight that had room for 100 civilian passengers. We were notified that we were to leave Rome on a flight DC-3. The in-laws stayed while we left by train for Rome. We went through Switzerland to Milan where we stopped over for a day. From Milan we were taken to a camp in Rome and after a week, we boarded a plane to Cairo. The trip to Sydney took 5 days. We were all very sick with travel sickness, especially Tadzio who was 10 months old and suffering very badly. He was swollen and had difficulty breathing. We landed in Darwin where it was very hot. We walked from the airport to the hotel where we stayed overnight. It was about 2 am and it took us about half an hour to walk. Tadek cried the whole time. In the hotel there was only a ceiling fan. We could hear the roar of water. It was very humid. We were all very upset and distraught.