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Kresy Family group

​​​​​​​​12  R E C O L L E C T I O N S


Family Histories


Wacek Kurzweil

PREAMBLE

Following the death of Wacek Kurzweil at the age of 89, his children discovered a typed manuscript, electronically reproduced below, which they never knew existed.  He rarely spoke to family members about his origins or wartime experiences and yet, at the age of 70, he committed them to paper in some detail and then hid the manuscript. The document is typed and is in English.  Clearly, this was a deliberate decision even though he was not a typist and, English not being his first language, his command was remarkable. 




















Wacek’s brother, Zbigniew, was an artist and his wartime drawings are on the website - Zbigniew Kurzweil Art 


MY STORY

​PART ONE       - Pre-war 

​PART TWO       - Russian occupation

PART THREE    - Deportation

PART FOUR     - Forced labour 

​PART FIVE        - Cowboy

​PART SIX          - Kola the hero

PART SEVEN    - Freedom

​PART EIGHT    - Parachute brigade

PART NINE      - Operation Market Garden

PART TEN        - Occupation of Germany

PART ELEVEN  - Demobilisation

PART TWELVE - Conclusion

POSTSCRIPT



PART ONE - Pre-war 

I was born on 27 September 1923 in a little village, called Porohy, in the Carpathian mountain region of southern Poland. As a little boy, I remember only the village and big mountains covered with spruce forest which I could see from my bedroom window. My father, Zygmund, was a forester employed by the state. I was the second youngest in the family with four sisters and three brothers. After a disagreement with his employer, father moved the family to a little town called Tłumacz. There we lived in a big house surrounded by orchard trees with all kinds of fruits. I ate so many fruits and became ill. The medicine in those days was very expensive. My mother, Janina, sold her wedding ring to pay for the doctor’s fee and medicine. After a long procedure to win compensation from his employers, we moved again into a bigger town called Stanisławów. Therefore, the first time I went to a school named after Adam Mickiewicz. 




































 On 1st September, 1939, Germany attacked Poland, and war began. Then a few days later, the Soviet army attacked Poland from the east. Not long after that I heard a loud noise when Russian tanks appeared on our territory.

PART TWO - Russian occupation

As soon as they passed, thousands and thousands of infantry and cavalry moved into the town. I realised that the battle over Poland was lost. Under Russian occupation we continued working through the winter. For the first time in my life I attended a meeting which was organised by the communist party. If you refused to attend, you were charged as an enemy of the Soviet state. In our town there were some Jews, Germans and Ukrainians. I saw Jews and Ukrainians greet Russian tanks, and even kiss them. It was a great joy, for them but not for long. Russians did not waste time; they cleared all the town and all goods in it. First, all the shops were emptied with all goods cleared. For the first time people were standing in queues; it was a very difficult time for everybody. The sympathisers could not believe what was happening. In spring 1940, Russians started to round people up, and send them away; nobody knew where. 

One night, in March that year, about 3 o'clock in the morning, there was a strong bang on the door, and somebody shouting “odkriway dwieri”, which means open the door in Russian. We were all frightened. I think my brother opened the door. Four NKWD secret police and one civilian entered the room. First thing they did was to tell me to go to the corner of the room and face the wall; the same order was given to my brother. Our mother was very calm. The first question they asked was “have you got any weapons?'' We said no. They looked around and started searching everywhere. On the table was an old shell from the first world war. One of them said, “what is that?'' I replied, this is a souvenir. I tried to show him, that it was empty, he shoved me away, and shouted “NIETRON” don't touch it, then he started to write something in his report. 

PART THREE - Deportation

Later, the commanding officer said you are all going away, and take only what you need. We tried to take as much as possible, but one of them said you don't need all that, where you are going there is plenty of everything. Outside, the army lorry was waiting with two soldiers on each side of the lorry, with a stick bayonet on their rifles. We arrived at the railway goods platform where we joined others; the train was already there. Every wagon was packed with people of all ages. Inside the wagon on each side there were plank beds. We were like sardines in a tin. The only light came from the little window in the corner of the wagon. In normal times these wagons were used for transportation of goods. In the middle of the wagon was a toilet without any curtains but was covered by other people when used. We were travelling like that for a long time. No food, only water. I remember the train stopping once, when a soldier opened the door and one man with the bucket was allowed out. I came out, and they led us to the well. I looked around me, there were soldiers everywhere, with rifles ready to shoot. Nobody tried to escape, it was impossible. After about two hours, the train started to move again. We passed Kiev and Charków, then finally we arrived on the outskirts of Chelyabinsk, Republic of Kazakhstan.  From there we went by lorry through the steppes of Kazachstan, and finally, we arrived at the village called Presnogorkowka. We were dumped in the middle of the village and left there. Local people started to gather around us, they were suspicious and wanted to know where we came from and what we had to sell. It was very difficult because we did not understand their language. Our mother offered some clothes, for bread, later we found people who were offered inside into their house

PART FOUR - Forced labour 

For them we were an enemy of the Soviet union. I was sixteen. After a couple of days, we found another place, it was better, we had more room for ourselves. Then we were told to report to work, in a brickyard, to produce bricks. It was summer and very hot, the work was very hard. Our job was to dig clay out and move it to a special place, where later horses went around in a circle, until the mixture was ready, and soft to use. When summer passed we were engaged in cutting trees in the forest and stacking them. Winter there was very cold and full of snow and frost every day about 25 to 30 degrees below zero. During my stay there I didn't see any wild animals, only white hares. Birds, only wild ducks, in local lakes. When work in the forest was finished, they gave us a pair of horses and two pairs of oxes to bring all that timber which we had cut back to the village. It was still dark. We usually started at 7 in the morning until it was dark. We travelled like caravans in a straight column. The horses were in the front, followed by the oxes, it took about six hours to go one way. After loading timber on the sledges, the journey back to the village was very tiring, we had to walk all the time to keep warm so we did not freeze. We had one piece of brown bread to eat which was all frozen. If you wanted to drink you had to eat snow. I remember one day on our return from the forest we were caught in a terrible snowstorm. The Russians called it - BURIAN, you could not see two yards what was in front of you. In this case, what we had to do was to follow the horse, and hold the sledges. The horses know by their instinct the way back home but not the oxes. For us it was an experience of a lifetime; we always learned how to survive.

PART FIVE - Cowboy

Later on we suffered from a well-known illness (a blindness), local people called it “kurica slepota”, whereby we did not see at all for a few days. The only cure was to eat something like liver or cod liver oil because of vitamin deficiency. The biggest problem was hunger. I remember one day I was praying to God and asked that for once in my life could he get me enough bread, nothing else. It was a very difficult time for everybody. The local people suffered just the same. We name that country Russia, an inhuman place on the earth. Our mother stayed alone in her zemianka. It was a house built by local people with turf, and covered with clay. They are very warm in the winter. Local women visited our mother because she told them fortunes from cards. She always got some milk or a piece of bread for that. In 1941, springtime I was called to the manager of the collective farm (Kolhoz).

He said to me, you are going to be a cowboy. He provided me with a horse and what I had to do was to collect cattle every morning, and look after them while they were grazing, until we reached the seventh lake. There, I had to turn them around steadily back to the village for the evening. At the beginning, everything went all right, but I never expected so many cattle. I'm not sure how many there were, I think it was about two hundred. One day, when I reached the last lake, it was dinner time, it was very hot and what happened? Some big flies appeared in the air and the noise they made scared the whole herd, they raised their tails and started running. I did not know what to do, I was scared to death. I stayed on my horse and was waiting to see what would happen. I could see only a big cloud and dust. In a few minutes I was alone on my horse with not one cow left around me.

When I returned to the village, some women claimed that their cows had not returned home. Worst of all, two cows which belonged to the head of the local police had disappeared. He called me into his office where I explained to him what had happened. He told me, “you are responsible, and if the cows are not found, I am going to lock you up.” A few days later he called me in again and when I entered his office he smiled and said, “I found my cows a few miles away”. My job as a cowboy ended because winter was approaching. 

PART SIX - Kola the hero

Everywhere we went there was a Russian man, his name was Iwanow. He was in his fifties and he told me that he had been deported from Ukraine for refusing to work on a collective farm. Many people in his village were deported to all parts of Russia. He also told me a story. When he was a young boy at school there was a very popular boy called Kola. He was known as a hero in all newspapers of the Soviet state. They made him a hero in the 30s, because he reported his parents to the communist authority for hiding food. As a result, he lost his parents forever and became a hero.

In the 30s, everybody was forced to work on collective farms; private farms were confiscated. Those who refused to work were severely punished. Iwanow was a very good man, he was always swearing at Stalin and the system. He also told me that “I will never see my birthplace again”. And he was probably right. The village, Presnogorkowka, where we stayed for two years, was about a hundred kilometres from the nearest town called Kostanay. There were a few lakes and steppes that ran for miles, and miles. In the winter, we were cut off completely,

PART SEVEN - Freedom

Most of the people there had never seen any other places and were convinced that they led a normal life. One day we were all gathered in the middle of the village, and an official announced that the Soviet Union was attacked by Germany. We were glad to hear that news because we were all expecting a change. Our exiled government in London made an agreement with Stalin that all Polish people should be freed and the Polish army will be organised on Soviet Union territory. After this news we had a discussion with our mother and she insisted that we should leave this place as soon as possible; it was only one chance to get out of there. After a few weeks, the authority provided us with the transport, and we left our mother. Today, after fifty Years I still can see that moment of our departure. It was a very hard decision to make. If I was in the same situation as she was I would do the same thing. She was always thinking about our survival. We left with other men to join the transport to Kostanay where Polish people from all over Kazakhstan arrived. From there we travelled by train down to the south of the Soviet Union. We arrived in the city of Tashkent where most of the people were Asians and Chinese. From there to the port of Krasnovodsk, on the Caspian Sea. We were loaded onto the ship called Moskwa. On that ship, there were so many people, I thought that we would never reach the other side and the sea was very rough. But in a few hours, we reached the Persian port of Pachlevi. When we arrived it was a different world. After two years in the Soviet Union, I did not believe that there could be so many goods in shops.

PART EIGHT - Parachute brigade

We arrived at a transit camp run by the British army. In that camp we had to leave our civilian clothes and throw them onto a big heap which was later set on fire. Some reporters took pictures of that scene. After a hot bath, we put on our army uniform. We were in the Polish army at last. Transport after transport, was arriving from Russia. Our General Anders, who also was released from Lubianka prison in Moscow, tried to get as many people as possible out of Russia. We left that camp and arrived in Teheran, capital of Iran, from there we traveled through Iraq, and finally, arrived in Palestine. It was an entirely different country, with all kinds of plantations and European people. From Palestine we travelled to Egypt, Port Said where we were loaded onto a very large ship, named Mauritania. On that ship we sailed through the Suez canal, the Red Sea and arrived in Durban, South Africa. There we stayed in a camp near Pietermaritzburg. After a few weeks we had a new task, to escort Italian prisoners of war to Scotland. We collected thousands of prisoners, and sailed towards North Africa. Finally we arrived in Scotland, where we handed the prisoners to the British. In Scotland, we stayed in a Polish transit camp, called Auchtertool. In that camp, we were representative of all Polish forces. We had the choice to join any of those units. Without any reserve we joined the parachute brigade. After the medical examination, my brother and I joined other volunteers. In a few days, we arrived in Elie, where all the training began. After a few months of various training, and a few jumps from a tower we were sent to Largo house near Leven. In this camp, we had all preparation, and exercises, before real jumping from a balloon aeroplane and plane.


We had more exercises and prepared for real action. This time we jumped from a Dakota plane, it was much better because we jumped through the door. One of those landings was watched by General Sikorski and his staff. After he told us “You are the elite of our forces and you will be used only on Polish territory.” Unfortunately, he died in a plane crash in Gibraltar. After his death everything changed. Our brigade was included in the British parachute division. 



























​A few hours later, the weather improved, and we went into the air. We passed over the channel, it was a beautiful view. The sky was full of planes and gliders, finally we were approaching the landing zone near Arnhem. The German anti-aircraft guns started firing at our planes.


The air was full of smoke, some planes had gone down before they reached their target.  We were all anxious to jump and get to the ground. When we left the plane it all happened so quickly and suddenly, in a few seconds, we were on the Dutch ground. After landing we could see more planes approaching the landing area. The sky was full of landing troops. Some of them were killed before they reached the ground, their arms hanging down. It was terrifying. After landing we all joined our units and started moving to the riverside of the Rhine. On the way we passed a small town called Driel which was partly destroyed. Under continuous fire from German artillery, we finally reached the river Rhine. We started to load ourselves onto the boats. Some reached the other side by luck, some drowned half way. It all happened during the night. Germans set fire to the buildings, so they could see all movements on the river. Other units were waiting for boats which never arrived. The order came to withdraw. The river was very deep, and wide. Our task was to get across and join the British in Arnhem. Some did, but others stayed and waited for more boats which never arrived. We were surrounded by Germans. Then on the third day Canadians arrived, and we pulled out of the area. The whole operation went wrong, right from the start point. 

PART TEN - Occupation of Germany

After a few days, we were back in England, at the same place near Peterborough, Wansford. After reorganisation, our units were ready for another task. But in 1945 Germany capitulated and the war ended. We had a new task, to occupy some parts of Germany. We arrived near Osnabruck, a place called Bramsche. We stayed here for about two years. During that time, we had different duties. For example, we had to keep each other in the civilian camp in Osnabrück where I would meet my future wife Maria. In 1947, we had to leave Germany because the Polish communist government demanded that all Polish forces in the west must be dismantled,

PART ELEVEN - Demobilisation

On arrival back to England, we stayed in Wotton camp near Hull. There, I was demobilised. We had a choice; go back to Poland, or stay in the west. Where I came from, that part of Poland was sold to Stalin, in Yalta, by President Roosevelt and Premier Churchill, our allies. For men like me, there was no place to go but to stay here in England. It was a very hard and difficult decision to make. Our decision was not very welcomed by the British, because they did not know the situation we were in at that time. But as the years passed by, the United States and Britain admitted that they made a big mistake about our eastern territory of Poland. It was handed over to the Soviet Union and the people who collaborated with the Germans before and during the war were the Ukrainians, extremists. We had to overcome all our difficulties and start again right from the beginning. In England, I started working in the steel works, in Sheffield. It was a very hot and hard job. My wife and three children, Halina, Ryszard, and Krystyna, all studied in the camp near Lincoln. The income that I earned was not enough to support my family and me so I decided to leave Sheffield. I joined my family. I did not get a job straight away, I was unemployed for a few weeks. Eventually, I found a job in an ironstone mine, called Nettington Mine near Market Rasen. At the beginning, it was a strange place; it was wet and dark. I had never been underground before. For the first few weeks, I was scared of every crack and the noises which came from the timber under pressure. The place was full of rats; they stole my sandwiches many times. It was a very dangerous place to work in.  My first job was as a Trammer, working with a pony, to supply empty trucks to the miners and collect full ones onto the bypass,





















When I got older I suffered from back pain and was advised to get an indoor job. After a long suffering, the doctor sent me to Harrogate for treatment. I had all sorts of baths and massages there. When I left I felt much better. In 1960, I left the building job for good. My next job was in an engineering firm, International Harvester. I worked as a machine operator. For twenty years we made tractors. During that time our daughter, Halina and Ryszard, got married. Our younger daughter stayed with us. In the 70s, our marriage went completely wrong, lack of understanding from both sides caused separation and later divorce. In 1979, I had an operation for removal of right kidney. In 1980, I was redundant. Then in 1989, I had another operation for my hip. Now I am near 70, and I have one satisfaction, that I have good children and that they are good citizens of this country.


POSTSCRIPT


Wacek's account provides little information about the fate of his mother or siblings but his descendants have found more about the family.  Janina stayed behind in the Soviet Union following the amnesty but after the war returned to Poland.  She was able to survive and eventually reach Kraków by reading fortunes for people from cards. She lived there until her death in 1958.


Ryszard, the eldest son, joined the Cavalry before the war.  At the time of the Soviet invasion he was in Stanisławów where the army was regrouping but was captured and deported to captivity.  He made an escape but was caught and beaten so badly he later died of his wounds.  His fate only became known some years later when a friend of Ryszard's who had witnessed these events wrote a letter to Zbigniew.


Hubert, the next eldest, escaped to Romania and then Czechoslovakia.  He married and finally returned to Poland and lived in Kraków.


Hela was the next eldest. She had married and moved away from the family home before the deportations. She eventually lived her life in Żmigród in south-western Poland.


Stefania was arrested by the NKVD as a member of the Polish Underground. She was tortured and then executed. What had happened to her was a mystery to the family until more recently when a Ukrainian researcher helped them to gain access to old NKVD archives.


Lala the next sister also married and had left home and eventually settled in Lublin.

Danka, the youngest, returned to Stanisławów (renamed Ivano Frankivsk) after the war and married, staying there for the rest of her life. There was very little contact with her as the USSR authorities made it very difficult. She had two daughters for whom Victor is searching.​

My other brothers and sisters went to grammar school. When I was thirteen, my father became ill and died. My mother couldn’t cope financially, so my oldest brother Richard joined the army. Life was difficult, so we moved again into smaller accommodation. My other brother, Hubert, also left home for the big city Lwów. He joined the army. Only three of us were left with our mother, my sister Danuta, my brother Zbigniew, and me. I tried to learn a trade but in those days they did not pay anything when you were an apprentice. Eventually, I started working in a big store with timber materials with my brother, Zbigniew. It was very hard for both of us.

Nevertheless, it has been lightly edited leaving some “Polishness” behind. It was only after his youngest daughter passed away that the manuscript was discovered by her siblings. 

His nephew, Victor Kurzweil, has made this story available for uploading to the website as Wacek's legacy.  In addition, he has provided information about the rest of the family who were living in Kresy before the war and this is contained in the Postscript.

We left Scotland and arrived in Peterborough, a place called Wansford. Here we got all new equipment and our brigade was ready for action. In 1944, we were transported to Bullford, south of England, where we had a few night jumps with full equipment. 
Then one evening, we were told that we would be going to action somewhere in Holland. And it happened. First, we arrived at the aerodrome, the planes were waiting, ready to go. We loaded ourselves and waited but an order came that all flights were cancelled because visibility was poor ​over the channel. It was very nerve-racking. 

PART TWELVE - Conclusion


I got accustomed to the mine and to the pony. After three years, I applied for a job to work on the face of the ironstone. I got it without any difficulties. It was a much harder and dangerous job. I saved some money then left the mine. We moved to Crewe where I started working for British Railway. I didn’t stop long there because the money was poor. We stayed in a camp near Crewe called Doddington. There I bought a motorbike and travelled to my new job as a scaffolder. When summer ended I left and we moved to Halifax, in Yorkshire. We stayed there in my brother's house but not for long. In 1955, I bought a house in Bradford where we moved again. This time we stayed for good. Our children started school here. We continued our struggle, it was a hard time for all of us. 

PART NINE - Operation Market Garden


I will never forget that place and all those exercises, it was a very exciting time. After two weeks, we finally arrived at Manchester Ringway airport. Here we had two jumps from a balloon and five from the Whitley plane. It was a very old type of aircraft. Inside on the floor there was a hole about three feet in diameter and through that hole we jumped. On the return back to Scotland we were presented with a badge (diving eagle). 

Zygmund and Janina