S T A L I N ' S E T H N I C C L E A N S I N G
STALIN’S ETHNIC CLEANSING in Eastern Poland
Tales of the Deported 1940-1946
ISBN 1 872286 88 7
Province (Województwo) WOŁYŃ
DANUTA GRADOSIELSKA (MĄCZKA)
Postal District (Poczta) Tuczyn
District (Powiat) Równe
On 17 September 1939 the Soviet army enters the Eastern Borderland of the Polish Republic under the false pretence of helping Poland in her fight against Germany. On that same day I notice Russian tanks passing through our “Osada” (settlement). The NKVD starts its assumption of power by arresting policemen and all Poles of any social standing. We feel abandoned and helpless. Towards the end of September the trains and lorries full of Polish soldiers and officers setting out for the war front are being turned around and directed by the Soviets deep into Russia. Within a short time a committee of Ukrainians was formed. Among their first actions was the ousting of military settlers from their properties. They come to us on the 21 October with orders for us to leave our house and land within 24 hours without any show of resistance.
I am 14 and feel very deeply all that is happening; this is the end of my carefree childhood. The fate of being homeless is just beginning. Our family consisted of seven people: father - Stefan Mączka, his second wife Helena (my stepmother but referred to as mother), his mother Salomea, my brothers Stefan Boguś and Tadeusz (adopted) and my sister - Zofia. We move to rented accommodation in the nearest town, Tuczyn on the river Horyń. Still the NKVD keep pestering us - constantly checking lists of family members and our possessions. Every week we have to report to the militia. My parents, sensing something threatening, decide that we should join my father’s family in Starachowice but before we leave, father needs to know the true situation, because the Germans have invaded that district. On his first attempt he was turned back at the border but he was successful the next time.
When he returned on the 9 February 1940 he brings Stefan Boguś back with him from the grammar school in Równe. Our intention was that next day we would pack and set out for the west - but it all turned out very differently.
At about 6 o’clock in the morning of 10 February we were woken up by hammering on the door. We had no idea what was happening or the reason for the noise. Father opened the door and it at once became evident that they had come for us: an NKVD official in civilian clothes and two Ukrainian militiamen armed with rifles. The NKVD man checked all the family names and then read out a warrant of resettlement to another county. My father asked which county but the NKVD would not tell him. Eventually, upon father’s insistence - he spoke Russian - the official answered, that we were being sent to Siberia. He told us to dress warmly and to take everything (other than furniture), food and implements such as a saw, axe and shovel. (We only had an axe because our other tools were back at the farm). He told us to be ready in two hours when sledges would be sent to take us to the station. On hearing this, grandmother had a heart attack. After some discussion with father the NKVD man agreed to leave grandmother behind. They then left us to pack, overseen by the militiamen.
Boguś ran down the next street to warn uncle Zwoliński that we were being deported. Uncle did not believe him, but later the NKVD came for them as well.
My father instructed me to sell the chickens to the owner of the house - they were in his shed anyway. He bought them - I did not bother counting the money for I knew him to be an honest man - and anyway, he was in a position where he didn’t have to give me anything at all. The guard dog remained on the chain, but I wanted to take the little pet dog with us, but this was just not possible. When the sledges arrived we loaded all our possession on one and sat on the other. The dog Lulu followed behind the sledges, but in the end the deep snow proved too much for him and my heart split with grief. We were ordered to board a cattle truck at Lubomirka station where more families arrived throughout the day. There were 42 people in our wagon.
11 February. About midnight we arrived in Równe, where more families were loaded onto our train as well as the children who were in boarding schools in Równe. 13 February. After a two day stop over we moved off at midnight towards Zdołbunów station where we were ordered to change to Soviet cattle wagons that were larger and ran on wider tracks. They pushed 72 people into these wagons making it very cramped and stuffy, the tiny grilled windows let in very little air and light. Families had to push hard to find room on the board bunks, of which there were two levels, ranged on both sides of the wagon. As I lay on my stomach on the top bunk, I peered through the window slit observing everything I saw and putting it down in writing. In the middle of the wagon, screwed to the floor, was a cast iron stove on which one could boil or warm up something to eat. On one side by the sliding door was a hole cut out in the floor for the purposes of hygiene. For decency‘s sake this was screened it off with a blanket.
15 February. We stop at Iwanko station, where we are given bread and water. At 23.00 hours we cross the Polish border singing farewell to our homeland and the hymn “God who shielded Poland”. We thank God that, having come home in time, my father was with us. I believe that the war will soon end and that it will not be long before we return to our “osada”.
16 February. We are already in Soviet territory passing Shepetovka. We travel through Ozhenin, Korosten, Ovruch where we are given some coal, water and potatoes. We are still kept in locked wagons. 17 February We cross the bridge over the River Prypet. Now we regularly see large villages and towns. 18 February We cross the Dneper Bridge and stop in Gomel, a large industrial town. Here a few men bring buckets of broth, which they divide among the families.
19 February. We pass Bryansk and Orel and 20 February we cross the bridge over the River Don. Now we start to veer north. During the night we stop at the town of Karachev where we receive soup and semolina. From this point we are allowed to leave the wagons but I cannot make use of this as I am full of a cold.
21 February. In the evening we reach Aleksandrovka. On the morning of 22 February, when I wake up we are standing in Ribne station. We are given coal and water and then, before noon, pass through Golvorsk and Voskresensk. On the way we notice a lot of devastated Catholic and Orthodox churches. We by-pass Likino and stop in Orekhovo where we stay until the morning. To kill time during this long journey we sing all sorts of songs, talk among ourselves and eavesdrop on other folks’ conversations. They are all very bothered, but we children are beginning to treat all this as a great adventure: maybe somebody will free us, rescue us, or come to our aid (I have just read “In Desert and in Wilderness” by H. Sienkiewicz).
Our journey is proving very wearisome as we are still kept in locked wagons. When we are allowed out we invariably collect snow in all manner of vessels. We wash ourselves with this after thawing it on the stove.
Mrs Z. Nowicka’s mother died in our wagon. Her body was left in the frost outside on the wagon’s platform. I was very sad when her body was taken at the next station to be buried, goodness knows where.
We pass through villages, fields and forests all covered in snow, for winter here is very severe and during the night, my hair freezes to the wagon walls. Early in the morning of 23 February we leave Orekhovo and go to Pokrov where, for some reason or other, we stay for longer than at any other place. Eventually we pass through Petushki and Oontov. We stop that evening in Vladimir, where all the houses are in one style and made of wood and again we see destroyed churches. Here we are given coal, bread, cabbage soup and some cereal. During the night we stop in Gorkiy. This is the nicest town up to now. The houses are mainly built of brick; the streets are lit by electricity, making the snow sparkle. Here again we get coal and bread. Someone goes out and buys milk for the children. Here also a few wagons are detached and sent due north. These contain some of the families from osada Krechowiecka: Górals, Sieradzkis, Zajdels and others.
24 February. We cross the frozen Volga. 25 February Sunday morning we stop in Kirov where we can see some factories. Here we are supplied with fresh water and some small children get a biscuit from a doctor who has come to attend to the sick. The transport commander tells us that if we have no hold-ups the next day should see us at our destination. We are pleased with the news that our journey is coming to an end, though feel some trepidation as to what this new place holds. For us, Sunday passes very dolefully and feels just like any other day. We pray in little groups as we sit on the bunks. We are now travelling very slowly, making a lot of stops. 26 February Around midnight we stop at Sobotkov, a typical northern town of small houses built of unpainted wood.
In the morning the train stops at Kotlas, a town on the frozen River Dvina. We leave the wagons that evening and step out into an open place in front of a school, where they are unloading the large pieces of luggage.
We slept on the school floor, sitting on our belongings. The place was packed, as an entire transport was unloaded here. It was difficult to sleep as there was much coughing and children were crying. The next day sledges started to arrive and they called out names so that, one by one, families departed into the unknown. That day we remain uncalled and so stay here for a second night. Now there was a little more room in the hall. In the morning when we woke, mother was ill with a very high temperature. We waited for a doctor, who examined her and diagnosed pneumonia. She was sent to the hospital in Kotlas. For how long nobody knew, for it was difficult to predict, but all we wanted is that she got well. We were told we had to go on to our destination.
28 February. We get sledges, pack our belongings in one and board the other ourselves. We are all despondent but believe that with God’s help, mother will recover. We quickly cross to the far bank of the frozen Dvina. A huge snow storm blows up and the frost registers -40 degrees C. We walk part of the way behind the sledges, both to keep warm and to lighten the load for the horses. We are told that our destination is 25 km. away. That evening we reach Privodino and sleep that night in an Orthodox church now turned into a club. Here we meet up with a few families who had left before us. On the morning of the 1 March we travel with our luggage on the narrow gauge railway. We go through the forest deep in the snow and arrive at the station in the evening. Once again sledges wait to take us to someplace further, deep in the forest. All of us, about 200 people, are packed into one large barrack. It is crowded, there is noise, children crying and we are sleeping on the floor for the children are placed in a few beds along the wall.
Large pieces of luggage are placed in a storeroom. The communal stove has very little cooking area, so some misunderstanding occurs, however my younger sister Zosia somehow secures a tiny place for our little pot. In the barrack hut itself there is only one small iron stove for heating, but because there is an ample supply of wood from the forest it burns continuously. Near the stove it is very hot but further away it is cold as there is a hard frost outside. Because of the mass of people it is very stuffy but we cannot have the door open, as there is a snowstorm which would blow the snow inside. The old people and the children are going down with illnesses and there is no doctor. The place is called Kotovalsk. There are only four barracks: a storeroom, a communal kitchen, a little shop and a giant one into which we are all squeezed like sardines. In the little shop we can buy Polish sweets and white bread baked locally from Polish flour but this lasts only for a few days. I am sure these luxuries travelled with us from Poland.
6 March. The camp commandant comes and announces “All men must go to work”. They call a meeting to draw up work brigades. There is no way out. They have to work in the forest. They are issued with saws and axes. They are paid for the work and the roubles will eventually be useful but for the moment there is nothing in the shop. They are leaving the camp, stepping into deep snow. Today, father is not going to work but to see mother in Kotlas. There is no news but we feel sure she should be better by now. We are left on our own, but I am not afraid. Boguś will return this evening and we know a few families from our osada and from the journey. I worry about my father and mother. Is she still alive? Will they return safely? I cook what I can with what I have, which is mainly what we still have from home. It is mainly noodles, for eight people - we four children, and Mr and Mrs Gałkowski with Krysia and Grześ, for Mrs Maria is poorly. I cook like that for a week until my parents return. Mother is very weak but well and they are both very tired after the journey. I am terribly upset on hearing that someone robbed father in Kotlas as he stood in the canteen queue - he lost all his money. What is even worse is that friends had given my father money for shopping. So next day father has to work for money to recompense them.
21 March. I am fifteen. The frost is terrible and it is snowing. On the Saturday before Easter we clean the barracks and decorate with fir tree branches so that it will be nice and festive. We manage to buy an egg. The frost apparently holds at -40oC.
Easter day and we lack a priest. With a little drop of holy water I had brought from home, father blesses that egg, cuts it into minute pieces, says a prayer and shares it among us and those near companions of our adversity. We pray very sincerely to God and the Holy Mother of Częstochowa asking for a change in our fate. Everybody is crying. This first Easter holiday in exile is very sad, tearful and full of sighs to God.
In the afternoon the commandant turns up and reads names from a list, ours are included, and tells us to pack. We are being moved to another “posiołek” (small settlement) about 4 km from Kotovalsk. We go by sledge to what turns out to be a better posiołek and we are placed in a smaller hut. This room is for three families: with us (six people) are Gałkowski (four), Oleś (six). As we now have a family bunk bed we no longer sleep on the floor. Between the huts are wooden planks we use as gangways. This place is called Statzia Mlodikh - and is surrounded by forest. The narrow gauge railway comes here so I do not feel quite so cut off from the world. We are also meeting different people.
On Easter Monday a group leader comes and tells me to go to work with the others since they have noticed that I am now 15. We all protest, telling them it is still the holiday... and we are not budging. We later learned that in other posiołeks people did work. We restart work on Tuesday. We girls are told to clear snow from the rail tracks. I work all day, my hands and backache. I am paid three roubles; my first earned money.
10 April, two months after deportation. Now I work in the forest - removing branches from felled trees which the men then stack in big piles which are soon covered in snow. The logs are loaded on wagons and taken to the depot. The branches we burn on the spot. As it is now spring the forest work ends. We go for a walk with a group of people and discover violets, which remind me of the sacred dell called Karłowszczyzna on the osada Krechowiecka.
15 April. We and a few other families are moved to a new place. We travel on the railway. The enormous gate at the camp entrance frightens me. It is surrounded by a tall wooden stockade with guard towers at its corners and it looks like a prison. However, I soon discover that the towers contain no guards and the gate is only shut and locked at night. This camp is called Monastyrok, close to Privodino on the River Vychegda. The name of the posiołek comes from the Orthodox church which originally stood here and amazingly still has a dome and a cross, but no longer serves as a House of God, but as a storeroom, canteen and shop.
There is a sawmill outside this camp and we are now involved in a different kind of work - woodworking with timber brought from the forest to this mill. There is also an electric generator which powers electric and other devices for wood-cutting. Men cut railway sleepers or building materials, while a few girls are employed in bark stripping and then cutting the logs into props and pit-supports. We work in groups loading these products onto wagons, then push them down the incline to the river.
After a few weeks, we are working with electric machines. Janka Oleś uses an electric saw to cut wood into chunks. Those are placed on a machine, which cuts them into cubes and two of us shovel these into a box and take them outside where we put them on a great heap. These cubes are used as fuel for the electric sub-station. There must be a constant reserve of these. A few of us are working in this group (if I remember correctly) Janka Oleś, J. Pleciak, S. Walasiewicz, S. Kołacz, G. Kulik, A. Kulik, J. Zaręba and myself. We have electric lights in our camp. Each family has separate quarters. We have a large room with two bunk beds, a separate small kitchen and beneath, a tiny cellar so that, all in all, compared with our first posiołek it is quite comfortable. The families who live in our hut are: Leonowicz (osada Bolesławice), Nowak, Cisałowicz, Oleś, (osada Hallerowo), Piotrowski (osada Jazłowiecka), Szymczuk. Besides these, in the camp are families: Budzyń, Muszyński, S. Kołacz, Pleciak, Stasiewicz, Lipiński (osada Hallerowo), F. Biedul, S. Dobrzański, A. Kulik, S. Pukacz, Z. Walasiewicz, J. Zwoliński (osada Krechowiecka), J. Gałkowski and T. Nowicki (osada Woronów), Cabut, Zaręba (osada Jazłowiecka). I do not know from where the following originated: Biniewicz, Jaworski, Werbski, Knapik, Kubik, Kręcisz, Pogoda, Makarewicz, Suchoń, Tyski, Ostryński, Wiącek, Wiśniewska, Obertyński, Poleski, Ostaszewski, and many more whom I did not know and do not remember. All of them had children: the young ones like my brother Tadzio and sister Zosia, went to the local school, the older ones worked.
Those who do not work - do not get a bread ration. In the canteen there is soup called ukha with a few fish heads floating in it and another called shchi contains a few cabbage leaves. There are also oil-fried pancakes but these are too expensive for our pockets.
The Commandant treats us well. On free days in the summer and autumn I am allowed a pass to go to the forest to collect berries and mushrooms. Without the pass one can only leave the camp to go to work. My father and my brother are building huts in posiołeks some distance from us and only occasionally return home for a day or two. On one such occasion they came back suffering from night-blindness so I went with my mother to the collective farm to exchange some of our possessions for liver, which mother specially prepared with onion. That helps them - they can now see in the evening.
Below our window we have small plots of earth where in the middle of June we plant vegetables, potatoes, onions, cucumber and beans. Everything grows rapidly for the days are nice and very hot and it is light almost all 24 hours of the day. There is also a steam bath, but we swim in the river as the water is warm. In August I go mushrooming and mother cooks them and they taste wonderful.
A decree is published that from the 12 August for even the smallest offence, people will go before a court and either get fined or imprisoned. The penalty for missing one day’s work - a month’s imprisonment. All those above the age of 16 will be taken before a judge.
By 20 August we are eating new potatoes from our garden. Some repairs are also being done in the barracks and six months of misery has already gone by. People work either on the collective farm, in the sawmill or in the forest. Many are sick and many die. As long as we have work to do, time passes fairly swiftly. Indeed the summer, which here is so short, has already gone. A whole year has passed since war broke out but nothing positive is happening. No-one speaks on our behalf, perhaps no one is aware of what has happened to us, or to where we have been deported. I am very downcast and long for home and Poland.
17 September. The 1st anniversary of the invasion of Polish soil by the Red Army. I turn over in my mind those tragic days, which changed our lives into a nightmare. Yet I still hope for a return to our “osada” and pray to our Creator and the Holy Mother feeling sure that God would not forsake us.
30 September - the first snow falls - it is frosty. Snow falls from early morning while the wind tugs at our clothes. By now we are accustomed to the early winter.
2 October. Tadzio broke his leg at school and cannot walk; he is in bed, has a very high temperature of 39oC and is in pain. After a week my father takes him to Kotlas by ship.
At school - Zosia goes into the fifth form - and proves to be a good pupil. A lot of different work groups are formed in our camp; father is working in construction - building houses; brother Boguś with a group of friends is working in the forest, living in lodgings at Severnoye (one km. beyond the Youth Camp) about 35 km from us. I am still working in the sawmill and floating of logs. The work is very heavy, the earnings pitiful, but I give what money there is to my mother. The days are exceedingly cold but free of fresh snow. It is now a week since Tadzio went to the hospital. Mother and Zosia went by ship to visit him. He was pleased to see them. He lies in one position so he has bad sores on his back and there are no creams to soothe them. He still has a temperature and has lost a lot of weight.
28 October. Zosia is in bed with flu. It is now cloudy and very cold. I go to the forest to collect cranberries, there are loads and they are now particularly good as the frost has crisped them. 11 November, but nobody is talking about our National Day, as they are all busy at work. Now snow falls more often and the frost is keener. We receive a parcel from grandmother in Wołyń and we are all very happy with this - especially since it contains leavened bread, honey, sugar, biscuits and vegetable seeds; these last things mother will sow in our garden to provide vitamins.
24 December. For the last two weeks Zosia has been ill in the hospital, in Privodino. I am going to visit her with my father in order to share opłatek with her. It is Christmas Eve, but I am far from happy, as the family is far apart. Wanda Suchoń and Lodzia Budzyń work in this hospital. When Lodzia saw us - she came up and said: “Zosia is already covered”. I had no idea what she meant, but father started crying. I have never seen him like this before with huge tears rolling down his cheeks. I wondered what was wrong with Zosia. Then Lodzia lifted up a sheet, I saw Zosia’s face and began crying myself. They told us that Zosia had died at 2.45 pm. Father took her home with us and made a coffin for her.
26 December. We gave her a very quiet funeral this December afternoon. With mother and father praying, we walked behind sledges, escorting her to her grave. Father himself buried her in the fir forest outside Privodina.
1941. So day by day life went by with us all working hard - I in the sawmill, Boguś in the forest and father in construction. Then out of the blue came the news that Germany had attacked Russia (the Soviet-German war - beginning on 22 June 1941). This leads us to believe that something will change. On 31 July, we learn of the treaty signed by the Soviets with the Polish Government in London. An amnesty was proclaimed for all Poles in the territories of the Soviet Union. There is a great joy that God has heard our prayers.
5 September. They begin to issue the first discharge documents from our posiołek and from neighbouring ones such as Striga, Bosharevo, Kotovalsk, Statzia Mlodikh, Pyaty Kilometr. The first group leaves, able to go wherever they wish for they are free. They all want to go to the Polish Army which they know is being formed within the Soviet Union.
18 October. A second group receives documentation but not us, we start to show concern, in fact I am pretty annoyed that our documents have not been handed over as the weather is becoming colder and it will be more difficult getting out of here with the onset of winter. The camp commandant, called Organ, explains that there are too many people waiting at the station and there are not enough wagons for everybody. He advises us to be patient. Boguś and some of his friends are determined to join the army, but in answer to their letter written a week ago requesting permission to leave, the commandant advised against departure. He said that without documents they will be faced with hunger as they would not qualify for either soup or bread at the station canteens.
14 November. The boys took no heed but went to work until lunchtime then ran off and were well away before the works foreman and the camp commandant knew they had gone. There were seven of them: my brother Stefan Bogusław Mączka, Wojtek Morawski, Tadeusz Nowicki, Eugeniusz Nowak, Kazik Oleś, Stanisław Zaręba and Jurek Biedul. Commandant Organ went after them but failed to catch them. As we are now in a war situation we are no longer paid for our work but receive 800 grams of bread (rations are introduced) and watery soup, but those who choose not to work only get 100 grams of bread.
From 1 December hunger stalks the posiołek where only 12 families remain. I am no longer working, because apparently I do not have to, as the new law states I am too young. This also means that I get only 100 grams of bread and have no money. But the main concern is no issue of documentation. Soviet soldiers and recruits are arriving and the need for accommodation for the soldiers means that we are squashed into one hut. I do not leave the barracks as I am afraid, because there are a lot of drunken soldiers around. Christmas is approaching and we are still waiting for papers. My dream is that maybe we shall get them as a Christmas present.
Instead, there is suddenly unpleasant news. The commandant tells us to pack, as they are intending to move us to Pyaty Kilometr as they need the barracks for the army. At this father and the rest decide to wait no longer for their papers and to escape that very night without documents. But that evening the commandant returns from Kotlas and announces that we are to have two days holiday (it is very difficult to believe that these people allow such celebration) and that our papers will be given to us immediately following that. Yet Christmas is still a sad affair as we have nothing to eat, except a few pieces of dry bread. I daydream of freshly baked loaves. Just a year ago my sister Zosia died and the memory is painful. Yet, on the other hand, we are pleased that we are soon to leave here.
At long last, on 27 December we receive our papers, so on 28th we pack and wait for the hired horse and sledge, which will take us to Kotlas. My heart is thumping with joy at this departure. There is a very keen frost, the pathway is full of snow, but the weather is fine for sledges and we should be in Kotlas in no time. We have only one sledge but there are only three of us and we have hardly any luggage. Tadzio is still in hospital so it is father’s intention to pick him up from there and bring him straight to the railway wagon.
At 3 in the afternoon we reach Kotlas station. There are crowds here already. In the canteen we are given 400 grams of bread and some soup (this is noted on the back of our documents). Yet more people arrive and our representative, corporal Janda, is run off his feet, helping various people to negotiate transport. We have already paid for our wagon at 80 roubles per person, seven families, 28 of us altogether. In the other wagons there are 45 people and so they pay less. We waited patiently for two days at Kotlas station.
1 January 1942. The wagons have arrived, there are six in our transport and we climb aboard after lunch. It is a great feeling of freedom as there are no guards with rifles and doors which we can open and close ourselves. Without the presence of a guard and not feeling frightened we go to collect the boiling water and bread. Fruit is too expensive. After two years of captivity we are free! This feeling can only really be understood by someone who has been deprived of freedom. On 2 January, the train sets off and we travel into the unknown - but our goal – is the Polish Army! I think about Boguś - whether he made it, just how did they manage and how hungry did they become? Our own journey took ages and we passed through such town as Kirov (where we stopped for four entire days), Zuyovka: 14 January, Molotov, Kama, Shalya, Kuzma, Hropik: 19 January, Sverdlovsk - a very busy large station near the Urals, Tatisz, Electrostantzia: 22 January, Chelyabinsk, Kartal: 3 February, Aktyubinsk, and a different landscape, with houses made of brick or mud, very little snow and steppes covered in dry grass. We crossed the wide River Syr-Darya. 9 February, Turkestan: 10 February, Aris, here we met some Polish soldiers in English uniforms and are visited by a Polish lady doctor. Here I see people riding camels, donkeys, mules but rarely horses. 13 February, it is night when we stop in Tashkent. Father and three other men go off for bread and are left on the station because the train makes a very short stop. They were carrying all the documents. Finally, we stop in Jalal-abad not far from the Chinese border. We have travelled along the Jordan valley through such stations as Gorchevo and Bagish, but there is no sign of father and I am very worried. 17 February, we turn back from Jalal-abad and find father and the other missing men on the station at Andyezhan. We are deliriously happy at finding him even though he has no bread. 21 February. From Kagan station we are going very fast, we travel all night in beautiful weather through the desert towards Turkestan.
22 February. We stop at Guzar – our journey’s end - the Polish army. The 7th Division is in Guzar. Despite their haggard faces the Polish soldiers look very smart in their English uniforms. Just gazing at them makes me feel happy and I dream of joining the army. Mother was very much against the idea but I finally convinced her and she gave in. On 24 February with a friend, Stasia Kołacz, I went to the Women Volunteers’ camp. She was accepted and I was advised to go to girl cadets’ camp. When I was asked my age I told them the exact truth that I would be 17 in four weeks’ time. I did not want to join the cadets but the proper army along with Stasia. I stood on the bridge disappointed, with tears falling into the muddy Amu-Darya River. Two passing soldiers asked why I was crying. I answered that the army would not take me, as I was only 16. The older one (perhaps 20) replied, “wipe away your tears, then go back and tell them you are 18“. So that is what I did and on 25 February I was accepted into the Women’s Auxiliary Service. I felt so proud that I am sure I was one centimetre taller. I was issued with a man’s military uniform as that was all they had. The trousers reached up to my armpits and the fly began at my chin! The jacket reached well below my hips and my hands were lost in the sleeves! The shoes had laces and were much too big so that I lost them with each step I took! It helped a bit when I wrapped the trouser legs around my feet and then put on my shoes. The eagle badge on the forage cap, I embroidered myself.
I was given guard-duty for which I received a rifle and a bayonet. My orders were that if anyone approached I was to challenge them twice with “who goes there?” and after the third time I had to shout “Stop or I’ll fire”. In reality I had no bullets, but I thought, only I know that.
Then came the wonderful news that father had found Boguś. He was in hospital but luckily was cured of typhoid. He told us how difficult their journey had been and how they had suffered from hunger before finally being accepted into the army. His friend Staś Zaręba, had died from typhoid in Guzar. Now I received a proper Women Volunteers’ uniform. Though it was an English uniform there was a Polish heart inside it. I took part in a mass funeral when we buried 22 soldiers and my friend Halina Zawada, an old friend from the settlers’ school in Równe. She was a victim of typhoid.
Next day, 24 March, we leave Guzar on the first military transport to Krasnovodsk. Where we are going now - nobody knows - as it is a military secret. This time we travel by passenger train, which after cattle tracks is a real luxury. In the compartment I meet Wanda Fuss and Madzia Langer. We are to travel through Ashkhabad to Krasnovodsk near the Caspian Sea and go on from there to Persia.
We arrive in Krasnovodsk on 27 March, eat lunch and then wait for the ship. During the night we board the cargo boat along with 5,000 soldiers. On the next vessel are families, among them mother, father and Tadeusz. (Although Boguś travelled with the army, we never met him as there were far too many people on board). A lot of people on the boat were ill and there were even a few deaths - mainly caused by serious illnesses like typhoid and dysentery. One main trouble was lack of water - but far greater was the lack of toilets - this caused long queues and many people simply relieved themselves over the side. I feel desperately sorry for those who die on the very threshold of freedom.
30 March. We arrive in the port Pahlevi and disembark in the afternoon and are directed to tents pitched on the beach. It was so nice and warm on the sand. Persian men come around selling boiled eggs, figs and dates. We are advised against purchasing because our shrivelled stomachs must gradually accustom themselves to richer food. We go to the baths, leaving our possessions behind in the tents, but I have taken with me a small case which holds my documents: birth certificate; 7th Form graduating certificate; a few photos; a medical book (volume 2 because my brother has the first volume); my diary and some underwear. After disinfecting and washing we are shown to new tents, as the previous tents, together with our things, are being burned. On our second full day 1 April we come under British Command.
2 April. We leave in lorries to Teheran and stop during the night in Kazvin. 3 April We arrive at First Camp, Teheran. A few days later my parents arrive with Tadzio. Father puts my brother into the care of the Zapłatyński Clinic in Tehran, where General Dr. Szarecki promises to operate on Tadzio’s leg - to clean up and straighten the bone. It is said to be very painful but we hope for a cure so that he may walk again. Father now relieved of worry for his family, joins the army and departs almost at once. Where to - we are not told as it is a military secret. The letters we receive are posted in South Africa, Canada and then later - Scotland. We celebrate the Easter Holiday most joyfully. There is Mass and it is very warm and very pleasant. I thank God for our salvation - owed to the Polish Government in Exile in London headed by General Sikorski - and to General Anders for the organising a Polish Army in the Soviet Union and then leading us from the USSR.
In Teheran while attending for the sanitary training course with Stasia Kołacz and some other friends, I become ill with typhoid fever. I was taken to hospital on 18 May and consider myself to be lucky that there was both medicine and care available. I left the hospital on 1 August. In October with a group of friends we left Teheran for Iraq where two transport companies were formed.
On 5 January 1943 we were in Palestine for an Army Transport course in the theory and driving of heavy vehicles. I completed that course on 14 March having twice been to Egypt to collect vehicles. I served in No. 316 Transport Company delivering supplies to units of both men and women. In February 1944 we left Palestine and were temporarily stationed in Egypt. After a few months, we sailed on the M/S Batory under the Polish flag and arrived in Taranto, Italy on 4 May. We served courageously in the Italian Campaign delivering supplies to the second line of the front.
Following the end of the war, I married 2nd Lt. Jerzy Gradosielski on 19 August 1945. In October of that year I was transferred from 316 Transport Company to the grammar school in Porto San Giorgio. All the army schools in Italy (and my brother Boguś) were shipped on the luxury liner Empress of Australia to Great Britain. We landed in Liverpool on 18 August 1946 and the Porto San Giorgio School was housed at Foxley, near Hereford. Towards the end of May 1947 I finished grammar school and joined my husband in the Hermitage Camp, Newbury. My first daughter was born in 1948 in the military hospital in Penley. In April 1949 we came to London and lived in Forest Gate from 2 September 1949 up to today. We had six children. My father died in London in 1974 and Jerzy, my husband in 1989; my 90-year-old mother, is a permanent resident of a London hospital. My brother Boguś and his grown-up children live in Essex. Tadeusz, with his wife and children, is in Canada. For many years I have worked in all manner of independent organisations, in SPK (Polish Ex-Combatants Association), in social and charity movements of different parishes and in 316 Club. I am an interpreter for East London Borough Councils.
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© Kresy Family
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