IN MEMORY OF MILITARY SETTLERS
WHO SERVED THEIR COUNTRY WELL
IN BATTLES FOR HER FREEDOM AND
IN PIONEERING WORK DURING PEACETIME,
BELIEVING THAT THEIR HARDSHIPS IN LIFE
WOULD NOT BE FORGOTTEN
The military settlement (Osadnictwo wojskowe) of the Eastern Borderlands has a permanent place in the history of the Second Republic of Poland though its effect was limited to a group of people of approximately 9,000 soldiers who served their country in the battle for independence during the period of 1914-1920. The idea of settlements in the Borderlands was born in the hot days of August 1920 and received legal backing through a bill passed by the Sejm (Parliament) on 17 December of that same year. The bill soon met with aggressive opposition in the Sejm as well as attacks from the press. Various groups that criticized this legislation, which was supported by Józef Piłsudski, (Marshal Piłsudski was Military dictator of Poland at the time) saw in the military settlement of the Borderlands a threat to their political and/or economic agendas. After two years, the operation of the military settlement of the Eastern Borderlands was suspended in March of 1923.
The living conditions of the settlers were extremely difficult in the first few years. The plots that were granted them were often overgrown with weeds and generally devastated by war and with no buildings on them. The settlers often lacked the most primitive agricultural tools and equipment at a time when soldiers’ pockets were empty.
With the passage of time, the situation of the soldiers improved. By the 1930s, articles in the newspapers assessed the accomplishments of the settlers and their positive role in the Borderlands favourably and sometimes even enthusiastically. In the east where many ethnic groups such as Poles, Ukrainians, Belarusians and Jews, as well as other smaller minorities came together as in a crucible, the settlers managed to coexist with the local population based on the principle of being good neighbours, rather than the relationship of “Polish Lord” to the Ukrainian or Belarusian “Peasant”.
The invasion by the Soviets onto Polish territory destroyed the Settlement of the Borderlands movement. The settlers and their families, with few exceptions, were expelled and deported into the heart of the inhuman Soviet land where they were decimated by disease and hunger. Some of them escaped to the free world in 1942 with the army of General Anders, but most of them only returned to their homeland after the end of the war. The settlers and their children were scattered all over the world.
At the initiative of the children of Osada Krechowiecka in Wołyń, the first meeting of osadnicy (settlers) and their children was organized in 1983 in the scout hostel in Fenton, Lincolnshire. It was at this time that the Ognisko Rodzin Osadnikow Kresowych (Association of Military Settlers of Kresy) came into being with Czesław Pukacz, an osadnik at Osada Krechowiecka as its first president. From that time onward, annual meetings of the settlers and their families have taken place in Fenton in September, and from 1990, also in London in February/March. The love of their settlements, as well as the admiration and respect for their parents’ pioneering work have led the members of the Association to publish the reminiscences of the “younger” generation of the settlers in the form of a book.
Source materials about the subject of the osady are sparse. The extensive archive of the Związek Osadników (Settlers’ Union) in Warsaw was destroyed during the German occupation and the fate of the chapters of the archives of the various Województwa (Provinces) and Powiat (counties) of the Związek Osadników which ended up in the hands of the Soviets, are still unknown to this point in time. Some documents relating to the Settlement Program can be found in the Centralny Archiwum Wojskowy (Central Military Archive) in Rembert and the Archiwum Akt Nowych (Archive of New Records) in Warsaw. Some periodicals of the Settlement Programme have survived in Warsaw libraries. These include: Osadnik (1923-25), Rolnik i Zagroda (1925-29), Misięcznik Osadniczy (1929-31), and the weekly Rolnik i Zagroda which resumed publication in 1938, as well as the reports of the activities of the Związek Osadników for the years 1931-33, 1933-35 and 1935-37.
In these circumstances, the reminiscences of the sons and daughters of the settlers contained in this book are an additional resource and constitute a valuable contribution to the history of the settlement program, as well as providing a window onto life in the Borderlands in that era. It is true that the authors of these reminiscences have reached back to a time of their lives more than 50 years ago, but this was the time of their carefree childhood days which were tragically interrupted by their deportation to Siberia. As a result, that time has remained frozen in their memories, preserving the freshness of a good photograph. These memories have undoubtedly been supplemented by the stories told by their parents who by talking about the difficult early days of the settlements, strove to evoke in their children pride in the accomplishments of their parents, as well as in their osada origins.
The editorial committee appointed to oversee the planning of the book decided to publish all the reminiscences sent to them, in all 128, of which 12 were written by surviving settlers or their wives. These last-mentioned twelve reminiscences are to be found in the first section of the book. The remaining chapters contain the reminiscences of children of the settlers organized according to the Województwo (Province) where their settlements were located. All the articles refer to osadnictwo wojskowe (settlements of military origin) with the exception of four articles which deal with osadnictwo ciwilne (civilian settlements). Most of the reminiscences are from the Województwo of Wolyń (71%) with 18% from the Białystok-Nowogródek region and 15% from the Polesie area and 3% from the Wilno (Vilnius) area. The text of the articles is preserved in its original form, omitting only those parts that do not relate to the Settlement Program.
Pre-war Memories from military settlements
Translations from the book
Z Kresów Wschodnich R.P. Wspomnienia z Osad Wojskowych 1921-1940
(From: The Eastern Borderlands of Poland, Memories of Military Settlements 1921-1940)
Pub: Ognisko Rodzin Osadników Kresowych (OROK)
(Association of the Families of the Borderland Settlers)
London, UK. 1992 and 1998
ISBN 1 872286 33 X
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