Translation 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
WITOLD STANISLAW SZYMANSKI
It was in the Wołyń region, in the south-eastern part of Poland on the right hand side of the river Bug in a secluded corner of rich, black soil that the Wołczek settlers put down their roots. The name "Wołczek " according to my "dziadzio's” (grandfather’s) stories developed from the days when people harnessed oxen "woły" to help toil the soil of the land. From those "woły", if we were to believe my dear dziadzio's story, which appears to be logical, the whole region got its name Wołyń. The oxen were supposed to have been harnessed for their strength and were used to plough the fertile land. It remains a mystery that somehow nobody seems to remember why and when people harnessed the domesticated horse instead of the oxen, but that was the name of our osada "Wołczek ”, as well as that of the whole region Wołyń, on the day I was born in April 1933.
Wołyń is rather a big county. There not only humans settled happily but also, because of the nearby forests, deer, wild boar, as well as the forever hungry fox and even the wolf. All lived in natural harmony. Many happy families lived in Wołczek. Mainly they toiled their rich, bread-giving, black soil. In autumn time the farmers went out hunting, mainly deer and wild boar. Just before Christmas a few of the farmers, my father being one of them, would go fishing (or rather netting) king carp for the traditional Christmas Eve supper. When I mention farmers it brings to mind those who I remember living in Wołczek: Skaczkowski, Sokolowski and Niewierski, but to mention a few. The Urbanski family used to run a water-mill down the river, while at the main crossroads the local smithy used to be run by the Karpinski family. They used to shoe horses and repair farm implements.
My father Julian toiled his fertile acres with great enthusiasm, care and hard work. He utilised every nook and cranny of his dear land, for he knew exactly the extremely dear price his land had been gotten for - blood over the ages, his ancestors’ as well as his own. His determination and hard work paid off well. Our family was well provided for. The white cottage we lived in was the happiest place of my childhood. Though it was just a simple bungalow-type of cottage with a thatched roof it was so cosy, so warm, so wonderfully and most lovably mine that I would not have ever wanted to live anywhere else on this earth! Though there was no tap water or toilet inside our roomy white cottage we had a deep water-well just outside our cottage porch, where the water was so tasty, cool and healthy, the likes of which you cannot not find in the whole world nowadays.
Further on in the farmyard there were hen houses next to the tall hay barn, behind which there stood our outside toilet, painted white. Further on there was an orchard of about seven acres of mixed fruits. Among the trees there were two dozen beehives. Beyond were the fertile acres, right across to the carp ponds not far from the river Bug. Going past the carp ponds along the boundary strip was nobody’s land. Here wild pear trees grew, the fruit of which tasted like a cocktail of honey and exotic fruit - delicious they were, possibly because they belonged to nobody and everybody. God's gift? Not far beyond those pear trees I can remember fishing on a steep bank of the river Bug with uncle Kazik, when he used to spend his summer holidays with us. These were the most carefree and happy moments, just fishing.
On the opposite side of our osada beyond the main road going through Wołczek there was a large forest. Between the forest and the pastureland ran a small stream. On the stream's grassy banks there grew a few weeping willows, which offered shelter to various species of birds. The slow-flowing stream itself encompassed a small island, just around the bend on the edge of the forest. The locals called that tiny island "kacza wyspa" ducks' island, for many wild ducks made their nests on it, though water hens and some partridge had nested there too. The stream was the water hole for the domestic animals on the meadow side and for the wild animals living in the forest on the other side. The water of the stream was a natural border between the wild animals and the farm animals; mainly cows and horses out in the meadows and wolves and boars in the forest. It was easy to shoot the latter as they tried to cross the water and the boars added to either the coffers or to the larders of the local farmers. The annual hunts were at the same time social occasions for the entire osada. It was almost an extension of the harvest festival. Deer and stags came out to feed in the fields.
On the left side of the river Bug about three kilometres from the osada there was a small town Krylów. There we used to go to church every Sunday, as well as on other religious and national days of commemoration such as the 3rd May, 11th November, All Saints and of course at Christmas as well as New Year, to name but a few. My father used to go to Krylów regularly. Sometimes, weather permitting, he would take me with him to the weekly market. After father had finished his business we would buy sweets for the rest of the family at home and then I had some delicious donuts with cream and a fizzy soft drink, while father would enjoy a cup of coffee with his choice of cake. My older sister, 13 year old Gena and older brother 11 year old Zygmunt used to go more often than I with father. They used to go to bigger towns such as Hrubieszów and Uscilug. They would in turn bring back a variety of toys for us two youngsters. On one occasion I remember they had brought me a butterfly on wheels on a long stick. The butterfly's wings would flap up and down when I pushed the long stick. Another time I got a circus acrobat on a string, hanging between two sticks with a cross bar between the sticks. The acrobat would do all sorts of tricks when the sticks were squeezed together. I remember that Irena my younger sister got a small kitchen set with cups, saucers, plates and such. She would cook dishes from the grass I'd cut with my small sabre.
Our county town Włodzimierz was about 20 kilometres from Wołczek. It was the town where aforementioned uncle Kazik lived and worked as a schoolteacher. A little further away was Jaroslawiec. It was a more mysterious town for it was the birthplace of the most loving person on this earth, my Mother - Helena Karpinska. It was always the most enjoyable occasion, visiting my babcia and dziadzio Karpinski in Jarosławiec. My favourite auntie Lodzia kept a general store between Hrubieszów and Włodzimierz. Whenever we visited our families we always used to stop at "Ciocia Lodzia's" store. She would give presents to all the children. Her only son Ryszard was the same age as I so as soon as we arrived we would grab a delicious ice cream in one hand and a glass of fizzy lemonade in the other. We would firstly finish our special treats and afterwards play hide and seek. They were just simple children’s games and yet they have stayed in my memory the most, possibly because we were young and it was summertime and both of us were just about six years of age. There in my child-like, carefree memory this world was very small but at the same time it was so beautiful, full of happiness and laughter, almost like a fairy tale. And though that wonderful world of my childhood had been abruptly broken by the evil of war there is no power on this earth which could steal away my memorable, childhood world. And that world will remain within me until my death.
To-day from the distance of over fifty years, remembering my childhood, I write about it for the next generation: our three children: Zdzislaw, Teresa and Ryszard, as well as for our grandchildren: Samantha, Matthew, Joey and Robbie, so that they would know and hopefully remember to tell their children and even the next generation about summer time in Wołczek where I was born. There was this unforgettable aroma of flowers and honey all around and in the fields the smell of promise of plenty in the shape of corn and fresh cut grass, turning to hay in our meadows.
On a self-sufficient farm there was no need to keep more cows, horses or poultry than we needed ourselves. The cows all had names: Greyone, Blacky, Spotty etc used to give enough milk for us to make fresh butter, cheese and other milk products, like "kluseczki z miseczki", while the surplus used to get sold. It was the same with poultry and pigs. The latter were kept for making ham, garlic sausages, salceson (brawn, eng; headcheese, am), black pudding, and other products. Mother was in charge of the poultry. Gena helped her, especially feeding them and collecting the fresh eggs. We used the hens' eggs ourselves, sometimes to make "jajecznica", a kind of scrambled eggs, while geese and duck eggs were mainly used in baking or sold at the market. Wheat, sugar beets and potatoes were the main products on our farm. We also used to sell king carp, as well as poultry, fruit and honey. In addition, my father bred special horses for the cavalry.
Local hunts for deer, boar, hare and for wild birds (ducks and partridge) were well known in the entire region. The sharing of the hunt used to take place at the Soltys’ place, so his wife used to be extremely busy during such times. She would prepare hot snacks and beverages so that everyone could have a good and happy time together.
We had two excellent guard dogs. It often happened that the two Alsatians Aza and Azor would chase foxes and even wolves away from our farmyard. The dogs were huge and so extremely fit that I used to ride on them like horses. Though at times when they had enough of such play they’d just throw me off their backs with a sort of a grin on their huge jaws. They were such intelligent animals that many a time they would bring a hare to the farmyard expecting some food in exchange. In winter time Aza and Azor would get harnessed to a small sleigh. Possibly this was one of the reasons for their fitness, strength and resourcefulness?
When it came to harvest time and the harvest celebrations, nothing could compete with those two. The Harvest festival (Dożynki) is probably the best example of a beautiful, friendly get-together, while at the same time showing the deep rooted side of human affections and binding love. Weather permitting, all the farmers, dressed in their best outfits, would gather together at the biggest farmyard, otherwise they would gather in a village hall. Wherever it was, there would be musicians. They would start with a lively tune just so that all could relax and whisper, rather than talk loudly as usual. The young ones were impatient as they would rather dance but they waited for their mothers and fathers and other older people who sat at a big table, set in a U shape. The table was heavily loaded with all sorts of fresh farm food and of course vodka and home made “wisniówka”, made from local cherries. All these gifts of God were the result of human hands, carefully gathered from land which the Wołczek farmers had skilfully managed throughout the year.
After everyone had had enough food and drink, the “Sołtys” (the chief village official) gave a short speech. He spoke about unity in society, especially in a small village, and community co-operation. That everyone was dependent on the others, just as life depended on the sun and the gifts of God. Thereafter, he mentioned special recognitions and commemorations for exceptional achievements in various fields of farm management, as well as for social work. It was rather a long list as practically every family got a mention.
Then all the gathered villagers sang “Sto lat” together. From then on the band took over from the singing, playing a rhythmic oberek. The couples took to the floor with great enthusiasm, often getting quite out of breath. The band continued with waltzes and lively polkas. The dance floor seemed to be sagging and crackling under the heavy stamping, accompanied by shouts. The dancing usually carried on non-stop for several hours. By that time even the musicians needed a bit of a rest so the music stopped. While the musicians took their deserved break for some food and drink this was the time for showing off artistic talents, singing and reciting anecdotes, the latter usually by the older members. They told jokes and humorous tales, drawing on their own lives and experiences.
The young people went to the orchard to catch their breath and exchange a kiss or two. Soon the youth returned to continue with their happy dancing while the farmers began singing to the various tunes being played by the revitalized musicians, thus carrying on till the early hours of the morning.
With songs and laughter the harvest festival was coming to a happy end. The participants began to disperse by taking steps towards their warm homes to refresh their tired bodies or change into fresh clothing. Joined by all family member including children and grandparents, everyone got into their horse-drawn open carts to drive to Krylów.
There they all went to church to thank Almighty God for his generous harvest of plenty and for all his blessings bestowed on them, which seemed limitless.
“Nobody can understand you, my God, even though you are among us.
As we search for you – beyond the clouds.”
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