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​iii. WAR

Unfortunately, all hope was ruined when on September 1, 1939 the German army entered Poland without declaring war. It was the beginning of World War II. Soon after on September 17, 1939, our country was treacherously attacked from the east by Soviet Russia. The Polish Army, defending the western borders against German aggression, had little chance of also defending the eastern areas.

I remember that day well although I was only seven years old. It was a beautiful, sunny, hot Sunday. My mother and siblings went to nearby Karnaczówka for Mass. I think it must have been nearby because they went on foot; to go to the parish church in Kołodno you had to take the wagon. I stayed at home with my father. I helped him paint the wheels of the carriage. Around noon, the family returned with the terrible news that the Soviet Army had entered Poland from the east. We lived not too far from the border, so they would soon be with us.

I did not see the invading army. They passed through a nearby village heading west and we lived on the road leading south to Wiśniowiec. There was no question of running to look, because my mother, born under Russian rule and who survived the Bolshevik invasion in 1920, was terrified of them. However, I remember one such incident from that day. Two officers approached our house and asked if they could water their horses. “Yes, of course" replied father. But before they themselves drank and gave their horses water, they ordered my father to drink first. They rode off without hurting anyone but were bid farewell with great relief.

There immediately followed repressions: arrests, murders, deportations to Siberia to the gulags, where anyone managing to endure and survive one winter was very lucky. The conditions were unbearable. Polish soldiers were among the victims. About 200,000 were taken prisoner, including about 22,000 officers. Some privates and non-commissioned officers were released home, some were sent to labour camps. The officers were imprisoned in the camps in Kozielsk, Starobielsk and Ostaszkov, and then sentenced to death. Those deported to Katyn, Kharkiv and Tver were murdered with a shot to the back of the head in April and May 1940.

One of the groups in the Eastern Borderlands whom the Soviet authorities targeted were the families of military and civilian settlers. Agitators appeared to incite the local population, spreading hostile propaganda against the settlers. These people in settlements and villages who had so far lived in harmony suddenly became enemies. Bands of Ukrainians attacked and robbed Poles with impunity. At night, you could see the glow of burning farms and hear the screams of drunken robbers returning from their conquests. We were terribly afraid. We were put to bed in our clothes in case it was necessary to escape. The only victim was our dog, a huge wolfhound, Reks. He was poisoned. In my seven-year-old memory, the despair over the loss of my beloved friend and guardian was long-lived, but I think that adults had much more to worry about.

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