3. CZESŁAWA RACHEL-GRZYBOWSKA
i. Family Background
ii. Life In Kresy
iv. February 10, 1940
v. Life In Siberia
vi. Freedom From Paradise
vii. Worldwide Dispersal
viii. Kidugala, Africa
ix. Tengeru, Africa
x. New Life
xi. An Acquaintance
i. FAMILY BACKGROUND
My name is Czesława Grzybowska née Rachel was born in Rześniówka, Zarudzie, district Krzemieniec, Wołyń. My father was Stanisław Rachel - born March 31, 1884 in Żbikowice, district Nowy Sącz (Austrian partition) and my mother Ewa née Trembecka - born September 26, 1900 in Podhorce in the Lublin region (Russian partition).
Poland lost its sovereignty at the end of the 18th century to three neighbouring powers: Russia, Prussia and Austria. After the First World War Poland regained its independence in 1918. In 1920 Russian Bolsheviks invaded Poland from the east again but they were defeated by the Polish Army under the leadership of Józef Piłsudski. The Polish Government then made plans to resettle the abandoned land, in the east, known as the Eastern Borderlands (Kresy) initially with Polish solders and then with Polish families.
My father was called up to the Austrian army as a young boy. In the war with Italy, he was wounded in the head and went blind in one eye. His father, Michał, left for America during the mass emigration of people from Podkarpacie, looking for a better life overseas. He left behind his wife Agnieszka Suchodolska with three adult children.The eldest, Kasia, was already married to Augustyn. Michał did not make any money in America and unfortunately after a few years he died. The whole family then decided to look for a better existence in Wołyń, Kresy where the youngest Ludwika married a military settler called Borucki
My mother Ewa Trembecka, lost her father at the age of 10, and her mother, Anna Małek, when she was 16. Ewa had two brothers, Stanisław who was much older and Władysław who was 13 at the time. Stanisław was already married and he took over the care of his younger siblings. As Ewa was 16 she had to help out in the home. It was Stanisław who decided to look to improve their situation by moving to Polish Wołyń.
ii. LIFE IN KRESY
Fate dictated that both families end up in the same place. Stanisław and Ewa met and in 1922 they got married in Kołodno. They arranged a loan and bought land in the district Krzemieniec near the village of Rześniówka. In total, 14 settlers bought plots near this village.
Their beginnings were very difficult, because they started from scratch and without any support. However, they did it. They built a house and outbuildings: a barn, a stable, a cowshed, a pigsty and a henhouse. All the buildings were thatched. Fortunately, exploratory digging located spring water that enabled them to build a well.
It is difficult to describe the life and work of people a hundred years ago when living in the present. Perhaps it is best described with one word: primitive. Instead of a tap, water was drawn from the well with a bucket. For cooking there was the so-called plate; for baking bread, an oven fired with wood and less often with coal; for heating - a tiled stove. The water for washing had to be brought from the well first, heated on a plate and washed in the tub with a washboard. Not like now - fill the washing machine and press the button.
There was no agricultural machinery. Ploughs and horse-drawn harrows were used to cultivate the fields. Cereals were sown and potatoes and vegetables were planted by hand. Scythes and sickles were used to harvest cereals. Workers from a nearby village were hired to work in the field and grow vegetables. Even today, after 80 years, I remember how working women sang wistful Ukrainian dumki. I really enjoyed listening to them, and I still remember one.
Twice a year, in the autumn and spring before Easter, a pig was slaughtered. Then the kitchen was transformed into a butcher's shop. Homemade methods were used to make all kinds of cold cuts (I have never eaten such a delicious black pudding as then), meat and bacon were preserved. Greaves (fried pork fat) were often used to season dishes, and my father liked it on thin slices on bread. Back then, they didn't know about calories or cholesterol, or they just didn't care. It was believed that whoever worked hard must eat well. Butter or lard, less often oil, were mostly used for cooking and baking.
A very busy time working in the field and at home was diversified by various family socials and sometimes productive meetings. For example, after killing a goose, it was plucked and the feathers kept until a few ladies gathered in winter and tore out the down. With the tough parts removed the down was used for pillows, duvets or sold. There was a lot of singing, jokes, laughter and scary stories. (The houses were lit with kerosene lamps but it was very dark outside. Outside you had the feeling that something dangerous was lurking behind every corner.) On these occasions, one of the young girls would read a book out loud whilst the working women listened. I am very grateful to my mother, because she not only introduced other adults to books, but she still managed to find time to read to us every day despite all the work on the farm. Probably it was then that I became hooked to reading and to this day I love books, it's my favourite activity.
Each farm had to be self-sufficient, but also had to set aside enough produce for sale. The money was needed to pay off loans, taxes, various fees such as schools, doctors or vets. You had to pay for everything you couldn't make yourself, such as footwear or warm clothes for winter, kerosene, salt or even a sewing needle. Not to mention the fact that misfortunes could happen - storms that destroyed the crops, death of livestock, mechanical failure or, worst of all, disease. The latter affected my parents. I only know of this fact from stories. It could have been 1934 or 1935. My healthy and strong father suffered a terrible headache. I mentioned earlier that as a young boy he was wounded in the head. It was initially thought that these pains were related to the old wound. After more careful investigation in Krzemieniec, it was found that there was a tumour in his head that had to be removed. We had to pay for the operation, but did not have such savings. My parents were forced to sell a piece of land that was very valuable to them in order to finance a fortunately successful operation.
These kinds of concerns and worries were my parents. My early childhood was carefree and wonderful. I had three older siblings: Stanisława, Władysław and Helena, and a younger sister, Danusia. We had loving, caring parents. We were healthy and happy.
I went to school when I was six, but my older siblings had taught me to read and write earlier, so I was bored with the seven-year-olds who started from A and B. I loved singing lessons and as a little girl I had a very good ear and voice. However I was a baritone and this amused a lot of adults. I couldn't sing along with the other children and I suffered a lot because of it. Luckily by the time I was nine my voice had changed from baritone to a soprano. This made me very happy.
I have a few nice memories from those years. Early in the morning the song of the lark. I really liked the fields of grain that were much taller than me. I was left with a fondness for poppies, cornflowers and all field flowers, which I loved to pick. The strong honey scent of buckwheat, fruit trees covered with flowers, or ruby cherries, which were used to make delicious preserves, juices and liqueurs. At the beginning of autumn when potatoes were dug, I remember the smell of burning stalk fires and potatoes baked in hot ash. I remember harvest time when the fields were swarming with workers mowing, tying sheaves and harvesting grain. I was fascinated to see how women used sickles in places where the scythe couldn't reach. One day (it was probably in the summer of 1939), when the workers went to dinner, I ran into the field, found a sickle and tried to reap myself. It ended with a severed finger! To this day, I have a memento of this adventure - a crooked nail.
Then there was the threshing of grain with flails, but as I remember, there was the
so-called treadmill. It was a machine in the yard, which was turned by a walking horse. The treadmill worked more efficiently and faster. I just felt sorry for the poor animal.
We didn't have many toys, but we enjoyed everything we got. I remember on the feast of St. Nicholas (Św. Mikołaj), finding gingerbread biscuits in colourful, shiny paper under my pillow. We ate the gingerbreads and put the wrappings in a book to smooth them out for making Christmas tree decorations. We made them ourselves. In our family, the older siblings did this, but I also had something to do - making straw toys, clowns out of blown eggshells with colourful caps, hedgehog baubles and chains of coloured paper. To the delight of us children, they also hung sweets, tiny biscuits and even colourful apples on the tree. The Christmas tree was dressed the day before Christmas Day, in secret from the children, who would see it for the first time on Christmas Eve. It was on Christmas Eve that angels brought the tree and left us presents, under the Christmas tree.
The adults were extremely busy with the preparations, so children were told to behave because anyone smacked on Christmas Eve (it was allowed at the time) would be smacked throughout the next year.
According to tradition, there should be 12 dishes for Christmas Eve dinner. Everything was made at home, so the preparations took several days. After all, not only Christmas Eve was celebrated by parents and children, but also Christmas Day when other family members visited and had to be accommodated.
Each farm diligently stocked supplies. Vegetables and fruits were seasonal. The excess was bottled. In winter, potatoes, carrots, beets, onions, cabbage heads and sauerkraut were stored. Cucumbers were also pickled. However, we had to buy many products, such as coffee, tea and cocoa (which was usually only for Christmas). Normally, children drank milk or water.
Years passed. The settlers in the Borderlands starting with nothing performed a real miracle. They were people who were hardened by the difficult conditions but entrepreneurial, hardworking and they loved the earth with a passion. Those born when Poland was under foreign rule and control also loved the freedom they regained after the First World War in 1918. They improved farms, built schools, churches and community centres. They formed various organisations, unions, to help each other. Older children, or rather young people, were sent away to study or to vocational schools. The future was viewed with hope and optimism.
Unfortunately all hope was ruined when on the September 1, 1939 the German army entered Poland without declaring war. It was the beginning of World War II. Soon, 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 that 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. "Of course, yes," 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. There were bands of Ukrainians who 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.
iv. FEBRUARY 10, 1940
Weeks passed. I don't remember if we went back to school. Life was returning to a certain normality. Only the fear of tomorrow remained. A very harsh winter came and Christmas passed - much more subdued than in previous years. Until the memorable day of February 10, 1940. At around 5 am, someone banged on the front door. When my father opened it, two Soviet soldiers with rifles and one civilian, a Ukrainian, entered. My father was placed against the wall, and my mother was told to gather belongings quickly, because we were to be transported to a much better place. It's hard to imagine what was happening! Desperate parents, children roused from sleep, crying faced with a terrible unknown. Somehow we were dressed, some things and food were gathered in bundles, and we were loaded onto our own sledge and taken to the nearest railway station in Karnaczówka. Trains were waiting there, ready.
On that same day, thousands of people were packed into cattle wagons, fitted out with tiered, wooden platforms, on each of which several people were packed. Instead of a toilet there was a hole in the floor. The iron stove lacked fuel and that winter was very harsh. During the night people's hair froze to the frosted walls of the wagon. Under guard with rifles, frightened and cold, sobbing people and crying children were squeezed like sardines.
After two or three days, when all those destined for deportation had been loaded, the train started. Some prayed, others cried. Some sang "Blessed mother, protector of people." It was a hellish beginning for several thousand exiles. The conditions in the carriages were terrible. Cold, because the stove in the middle was of no use, even where there was something to burn. There was no water. From time to time, when the train stopped, young girls and boys were released under guard to bring water that was used only for drinking and cooking. There was not enough for washing. I don't remember if we were given anything to eat. We probably ate what we took from home. It is likely that the famous Russian kipiatok, hot water from a samovar, was available at stations.
After two or three weeks, we reached our destination. It was the Ural Mountains in Siberia. The train stopped at the railway station in Wilwa. I think there was an overnight stay there. In the morning, mothers and children were put on sleds, in something like a basket. They were pulled by small, stocky horses. However, adults and adolescents had to walk. This is how we got to the next stop in Iwaka from where we went on to our final destination.
It is impossible to imagine how much effort it took to trudge this road in the middle of a Siberian winter. Of course, everything was done under the supervision of the guards always ready to shoot.
v. LIFE IN SIBERIA
Finally, we reached our destination - exhausted but alive. It was a posiołek (a kind of settlement) situated among impassable forests and swamps. About 650 people were placed in our posiołek. The address was as follows:
Kiziełowski Rajon (then Aleksandrowski),
Permska Oblast (then Mołotowska).
In the years 1934-36 farmers were brought here from eastern Ukraine who did not want to give up their land to collective farms. They were thrown into a clearing in the forest and ordered to stay there. It was they who built the huts but driven from them before our arrival. The huts were built in pairs out of wooden logs, the gaps filled with moss. It was a breeding ground for bedbugs and other vermin. There was one room for everything with a cooking stove. I remember that my favourite place was a corner by the fireplace (zapiecek) where I liked to spend my time and slept with my older sister Hela, because it was the warmest there.
After the first night there was panic. I became swollen and blotchy. My mother took me to the doctor, also a prisoner, who said they were just bedbug bites and nothing to worry about. You have to get used to it. This is how our life in exile began.
Mothers with children were allowed to remain in the huts, while teenagers from 14 or 15 years old and adults had to walk for kilometres into the woods to work cutting down trees and floating them down the river. There they lived in barracks and once a month they had a day off to visit their family. Such was the fate of my father and my oldest sister Stenia. Władzio was luckier because thanks to mother's intercession, he became a stable lad for the head of the posiołek - a Russian. Raised on a farm, he knew how to take care of horses. I don't know if he was treated badly or well.
Working in the woods was a real ordeal. There was no proper clothing or tools – a saw and an axe had to suffice. The starving people began to lose strength. The summer, though short-lived, was hot and mosquitoes and midges plagued them. In winter, there were huge snows and frosts. When the temperature dropped below minus 40 degrees, they were allowed to stay in the barracks, which were not much warmer. It was necessary to meet the "norm", otherwise the already minimal wages were reduced.
My father fell ill, and Stenia did what she could, but what could a 17 or 18-year-old girl do? This left an acute shortage of money and our needs multiplied. Among other things, before the upcoming winter it was necessary to obtain clothes adapted to severe frosts and snow. They were “fufajki” (padded jackets) and “walonki” (high, felt boots with soles).
There was a patch of ground next to each hut which my mother turned over and in the spring of 1940 planted potatoes and some vegetables. Some women laughed at my mother for making so much effort, saying before anything grows, we will return to Poland. "Maybe you are right, but I will gladly leave everything for someone else to benefit" my mother replied. Unfortunately, there was no quick return and we had to keep watch at night, because we had potatoes stolen before they had even grown. Water was brought from the river that crossed the posiołek. Beautiful marigolds grew next to it. In the summer, we collected and dried mushrooms, which were abundant.
My sister and I had to go to school. I didn't even mind because I always liked to learn. Only I was surprised when we were fed with propaganda. How grateful we should be to Stalin, who welcomed us and took care of us in his hospitable, beautiful country because it was so bad in Poland. I put myself at risk, because in my childish naivety I asked why I was never hungry while in Poland, and even though it is so good here, there is nothing to eat. Of course, there followed a conversation between my mother and my teacher, however I got away without punishment.
My sister and I went to school as long as we had our shoes from Poland. When these fell apart, we were bought “walonki”, but only one pair because there was no money for two. We then took turns at school. I don't remember if that caused any problems.
Months passed in this way struggling to save the family from starvation and to survive, and gradually it became worse.
vi. FREEDOM FROM PARADISE
In mid-June 1941, its former friend Germany attacked Russia. Facing imminent defeat, the Soviets looked for allies in the fight against the aggressors. On July 30 1941 with British mediation, the Sikorski-Mayski Pact was signed in London. It agreed to the creation of a Polish army formed of political prisoners locked up in labour camps and forced deportees, which would fight a common enemy in the near future. There was the so-called "amnesty" according to which we became free people. We could change our place of residence, but only within the territory of the Soviet Union. This news and that of the Polish Army being formed in the south of the USSR reached most exiles in Siberia. There was crazy joy. Crowds of released prisoners and exiles moved south. Hungry, devastated by disease, overworked, exhausted by physical and mental abuse, they died by the hundreds along the way.
My parents decided to leave the posiołek as soon as possible, convinced that otherwise we would not survive the next winter. They sold off what they had left and paid for a rail wagon with a few other families. It did not differ much from the one in which we were transported to Siberia - the only difference was that there were no guards with rifles.
I don't remember when we left the posiołek, but I suppose it was late 1941. It was definitely winter. We reached the nearest railway station by sleigh in Wilwa. We boarded the wagon and headed to the southern USSR. The journey, I don't know how long it took, was very strenuous. We weren't travelling continually to a timetable. The wagon was simply attached to the train going south. Sometimes the wait was short, but sometimes we stood on side track for days. There was a huge shortage of food, so people took risks and as soon as the wagon was unhooked, they rushed to buy something or exchange it for food. Often they were left behind when the train moved on, never to be connected with their loved ones again. This happened to us. The train stopped, the wagon was unhooked. My father took the bucket and left, hoping that he might be able to buy something. Before he returned, we were attached to the train and off we went. Despair ensued and turned into joy because after two days he found us. Moreover, he managed to buy some soup. He poured off the thin soup in preference for the thick liquid with which he satisfied the hungry family. I remember that I was very sick with measles at the time. My temperature was high and I couldn't even eat this soup. I just wanted to drink.
At one of the stops, one of the ladies from our wagon met her brother who had left the camps. A human skeleton covered in rags; of course he was admitted to our group. After a few days we all had lice. Poverty was grinding us and now lice had joined in.
After some weeks, we reached Uzbekistan. We were sent with two other families to a kolkhoz named "Stalin". It might have been January, but here it was spring. We lived in a "kibitka". It was a flat-roofed clay room. Instead of a window, a slit. A door and one bunk where our whole family of seven slept together with Mrs. Domaradzka and her daughter Halina, Stenia's friend. The conditions of most of the locals were little better than in Siberia, except for a wealthy few (and there were some) who had larger houses. In general, the population was poor.
Shortly after, an order was given that all adults should report to work, because that's what we came for. My sister, who was only 12 years old, was forced to work hard collecting cotton. I stayed at home with my younger sister. I remember being very scared. I propped the door with a peg and we sat huddled together quietly until the others returned from work.
If in Siberia it was bad for us, here it was almost tragic. There was unimaginable hunger. I have no idea how miraculously mother managed to keep us alive. I remember with disgust the so-called oilcake that was fed to the camels. Oilcake was made from the remains of oil squeezed from cotton seeds – they were hard as stone. When we managed to beg, buy or even steal a piece, mother would soak it, season it with something and we tried to eat it although it was completely disgusting.
Once I woke up crying in the night. Mother tried to calm me down and said: - You must be very hungry, darling….- ‘No, mummy, I am not crying because I am hungry, but I feel so sorry that I could not eat the soup that Daddy brought to the wagon when I was ill.’
We didn't have unrealistic desires, we dreamed of having enough to eat.
Some of the locals bred sheep - karakuls. Various things were made of wool, but my mother came up with an idea to earn something; Mrs. Domaradzka would spin wool, and Stenia and Halina made hats and gloves from the yarn. In this way it was possible to buy something to eat. There was no bread, but there were pancakes - lepioszki. What a delight it was to get a piece of pancake!
I think at the end of February or the beginning of March little lambs started to appear. At two weeks old, they were killed whilst they still had black, curly fur. After treatment, furs were sewn from the skins. The meat, on the other hand, was destroyed probably for religious reasons. When mother found out about this, she begged the Uzbeks to give her the meat. I don't know if and what kind of bargaining took place, but the meat went to our pot and it tasted delicious. Perhaps it saved our lives because we were already extremely exhausted and we were in danger of starving to death.
About this time, the news reached the kolkhoz that a Polish centre had opened in the nearest town of Bukhara. By now father was very weak, hardship continued to dog us so mother had to act as usual. Skin and bones, dressed in rags, without a good command of the Russian language, but desperate to save her family, she decided to go and seek help. She was gone for a few days, but eventually to our universal joy she returned. She brought a few roubles, a loaf of coveted bread, and most importantly, the news that a Polish army was being formed in Kermine. Whoever joined in time would likely be able to leave the country with the first transport planned for the end of March 1942. Without rest or loss of time, she organised father and Władzio and went with them to Kermine. My father was not admitted to the army due to his poor health, but my brother, who was 15 years old, was admitted to Junaki (cadet soldiers). In this way we became a military family with a chance to leave the Soviet Union. However, we had to be in Kermine before the departure of the transport, which was leaving in only a few days. My brother secured, mother found a safe place for my father she then returned to the kolkhoz to collect us. In a great hurry and with relief, we left this gloomy place for the nearest station or rather a train stop located in a terrible wilderness. Several Uzbeks escorted us. Probably those for whom Stenia and Halina made hats and gloves but above all to take back the arba (a two-wheeled, tall wagon) with which they gave us a lift.
On arrival, it turned out that we couldn't buy tickets. The cashier was at the counter, but found the next train overbooked and tickets “niet” (none available). Desperate, my mother took off her wedding ring - the last thing that was left for her, and asked again for the tickets, which she received this time with a warning that the train might not stop. Indeed, it did not stop, but it slowed down very much, and by some miracle and with the help of the Uzbeks, we all managed to get in. There was no place in the wagons, so mother placed us and some bundles on the buffers. The conductor came to check tickets. When she saw us settled on the buffers, she started screaming that we were not allowed here and at the next stop she would throw us out off the train. To which mother answered that if she takes something that belongs to us, she will throw her under the wheels. A terrible, loud row broke out, because the quarrelling women were joined by the crying of frightened children. Fortunately a man, maybe even the conductor's supervisor, showed up and told her to leave. Not only did he stop threatening us, but he helped mother arrange our things better so that my sister Hela, who looked terrible, could lie down. He also brought a doctor to look at her who said that he was very sorry, but the girl was dying and he had nothing to save her. In a moment he brought out two or three lumps of sugar and something to drink. It is not known if this saved her, but she did not die then.
I don't know how long it took, but we finally got to Kermine. Here I remember black mud, a disgusting stench, a multitude of human skeletons in rags. We found father and we left quickly in more comfortable carriages and in better conditions. I don't remember much about this trip.
On reaching Turkmenistan and Krasnovodsk we were put on a ship. Again this incredible stench and crowds of people looking for a place. It was impossible to stand below deck. Mother found some space on the deck where she put us. Before us was the Caspian Sea, and on the other side Pahlevi, Persia (Iran) and freedom.
During the night when we were already out at sea, there was a storm. A panic broke out that we were sinking, because the small ship was being tossed about. In this confusion, I went off and found myself an interesting place. High up, leaning against a railing, I stared down at fires burning in enormous furnaces. A sailor passing by noticed me and frightened, said: “What are you doing here child (rybionko)? You'll fall.” In the corner was a thick rope coiled into a snail. He picked me up and put me inside."You'll be safe here until the storm passes," he said. After a long search and afraid that I might have fallen overboard, my delighted father found me.
We safely reached Pahlevi in Persia (Iran) and entered a completely different world. It was with joy and a great relief that we saw soldiers, but this time Polish soldiers and without rifles pointing at us. There were tons of tents, the sand was yellow, the air was clean and fragrant. Even the sun was shining brighter, and the impression of something gloomy, dark and sinister remained on the other side of the Caspian Sea.
The next stage of our wandering began, but now organised and under the supervision of special services. First, we were led to a tent with showers - women and men separately. You had to take off the lice-ridden rags which were burned. Only after all hair was shaved off to get rid of these annoying bugs, could we bathe. What a delight - warm water and soap. After the bath, relatively clean, we went through to the other side of the tent where we were given fresh clothes and welcome food.
It was the first evacuation of the Polish Army from the USSR at the turn of March and April 1942. Almost 43,500 people were involved, mainly soldiers, but also about 2,500 civilians. Thanks to our mother's heroism, sacrifice, superhuman courage and struggle with adversities we joined this group and the whole family was saved. We lost contact with our Junak brother - for many months.
After a short stay in Pahlevi, we were taken to Tehran by truck. Father, who was bedridden, was immediately taken to the hospital, where he died on April 24, 1942. In 2012, I was lucky to be in Tehran on the 70th anniversary of his death, to say a prayer at the grave and lay flowers. In total, 1993 Poles are buried in the cemetery in Tehran - civilians and a number of soldiers.
Another event stuck in my memory. Shortly after my father's death, our little sister Danusia fell ill - exhausted by whooping cough. I easily recall the picture of an emaciated, unconscious child lying on an outstretched blanket on the ground (there were no beds) in the tent. We all cried, and the ladies whispered around us that this was the end. Help was called and mother ran to the open-air altar and I after her. There was an icon of Our Lady of Częstochowa on the altar. She knelt down and began to pray aloud, begging Our Lady to save her child. Danusia was taken to hospital. She had pneumonia. Mother did not leave her day or night, and after a few days she recovered almost completely!
A new way of life began. Unusual, as it was in a camp, but much easier than the last two years. Our tireless mother, of course, immediately found a job to be able to buy fruit for us, which was abundant. Wonderful grapes, melons, cherries and tomatoes attracted our attention. I don't know who cooked the meals, but the rice with mutton stew was very fatty with a specific taste and smell. It may be that it was a local dish, but it was not the best idea for undernourished stomachs. Hence, the aversion to mutton remained with me my whole life. So a proposal arose to organise a dietary kitchen where lighter meals would be prepared, especially for children and sick people. This is what mother did. Soon she changed jobs and, together with Stenia, they started sewing in the newly opened sewing room. A school was set up immediately and we started to attend. There was no equipment, you sat on a few bricks and listened to the teacher’s stories.
I was nine years old and children my age were prepared for First Holy Communion. The preparation was very brief, as the ceremony took place at the beginning of May.
Soon we were moved from camp 2 to camp 3 and from there we were sent onwards to make room for further transports. In August 1942, the second evacuation of the Polish Army and civilians to the Middle East took place. The third and final stage took place in September of that year, but by a different route - by land. After that Stalin changed his mind and the border was closed.
In 1942, about 114,000 Polish citizens were evacuated from USSR through Persia, including 78,000 military personnel who were sent to Iraq and Palestine and about 36,500 civilians of whom 12,500 were children under the age of 14. Single men and fathers of families joined the army when they had a chance. They intended that families left behind in Siberia would be taken care of later. However, help did not reach distant collective farms throughout USSR. Desperate mothers gathered up the last of their strength and set off with their children on the way to the camps. Others who were seriously ill tried to find out where the Polish orphanages were in order to send their children to be cared for by an older brother or sister. On parting, terrifying scenes took place, more painful than hunger and epidemics. The children clung to sobbing mothers who chased them away, begging them to save themselves.
vii. WORLDWIDE DISPERSAL
After many difficult talks with the Soviet authorities and thanks to the tough approach by the Polish Army commander, General Anders, permission was obtained for the evacuation to Persia (Iran). Persia was a transition area for Polish refugees, from where civilian families and children set off, or rather were sent out into the world, often very exotic.
Under the agreements and numerous arrangements between the Polish authorities in exile and their Western allies, especially Great Britain and the United States, about 1,600 people arrived in Mexico (the Santa Rosa colony). New Zealand accepted over 700 mostly orphans and their guardians. The largest group of Poles went to India and Africa, where it is estimated that the African Continent received a total of about 20,000 refugees, mainly women with children and orphans. It is estimated that in 1940 about 1 million Polish citizens were deported to the USSR. Some were not so lucky enough to leave the "inhuman land" with the army. It left behind numerous graves of compatriots, as well as masses of less fortunate exiles who spent the rest of the war there. About 217,000 were able to return to Poland in 1946, but many remained in exile forever - some died under various circumstances but others survived.
The news that we were to go to Africa was received in different ways. This continent was probably known only from reading of Sienkiewicz's novel "In Desert and Wilderness" (W Pustyni i Puszczy); located far from the country to which everyone longed to return; a continent full of wild, dangerous animals. Some had many reservations, others were pleased. Our mother said that the further we are from the Soviet Union, the safer we are, and you can return to Poland from any corner of the world.
At the end of May or the beginning of June 1942, we left Tehran. Mother and four daughters: Stenia, Hela, Danusia and myself. Father was buried in the cemetery, and brother Władek and the Junaks we believed, also escaped the "house of captivity" in the USSR. The first stop, probably quite a short one, was in Ahwaz, where we were brought by train. I remember massive hangars and incredible heat. At night, huge chunks of ice were brought and whilst melting refreshed the air a little, and in this way we could fall asleep, lying in rows on the ground.
From Ahwaz, we were taken to the port and we sailed by ship to Karachi in India (now Pakistan). Here we were allocated tents on sand. I don't remember much of it except the very strong tea with milk, which I couldn't drink, the tasteless powdered scrambled eggs and the howling of jackals at night. I also remember a funny incident that took place there. On this occasion a children's movie was shown, naturally in the open air sitting on the sand. At one point, for some reason, those in front stood up. The voice of an American soldier was heard, speaking in broken Polish: "Those in the front sit down because the backside can't see anything." The crowd of children reacted with crazy joy.
viii. KIDUGALA, AFRICA
After a short stay in Karachi, we sailed by British ship to Africa where we stayed for a period of six years. Transports with Poles landed mainly in Mombasa in Kenya and in Dar-es-Salaam and Tanga in Tanganyika (now Tanzania). Refugees were placed in settlements scattered throughout eastern Africa: in Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia), Kenya, Uganda, Tanganyika. Even South Africa welcomed around 500 orphans. Some estates were situated in very picturesque neighbourhoods. For example, Masindi (about 4,000 people) was hidden in the jungles of Uganda. Koja (about 3,000 people) was located on the shores of Lake Victoria. The largest, Tengeru (about 5000 people) - at the foot of Mount Kilimanjaro. Kidugala and Ifunda (about 1,000 people each) were amid hills and lush vegetation, and Abercorn on the shores of Lake Tanganyika.
They had one thing in common - malaria prevailed everywhere. In total 22 refugee camps were built in Africa. Three transitional camps were closed within a short time. Nineteen remained for a longer period.
In 1943, older girls born before 1928 and boys of a similar age, as well as a few younger ones, had a chance to leave. Girls went to England for aviation training and boys to military schools in Palestine and Egypt. That’s when we parted with our oldest sister Stenia. In England, she married pilot Brunon Mondzielewski and in 1947 she returned with her husband to Poland. There was great joy and many tears when she visited us in England in 1960. We hadn't seen each other for 17 years.
The refugee camps were mostly full of women and children. There were very few men usually those unsuitable for the army or as specialists who were sent to perform specific functions.e.g. doctors.
Due to the high percentage of children and adolescents there was a need to organise schools immediately, because apart from families, there were also orphanages, large ones in Tengeru and Masindi. The beginnings were difficult. Teaching staff were not always qualified, school premises and teaching aids were initially non-existent, but young people were full of enthusiasm, eager to learn, wanting to make up for lost years. A total of 47 schools were established, including 19 primary schools, seven general secondary schools, ten vocational secondary schools and eleven kindergartens. Mothers and schools played a very important role together with the church, scouts and guides to develop young characters with the motto of ‘Love of God, Honour and the Homeland’.
The refugee camps also ran their own enterprises. Farms, shops, butchers, bakeries and various workshops were established, which kept willing people busy with work. Churches and clubhouses were built. Libraries were organised, schools and hospitals expanded. Gardens full of flowers were planted around the houses. The refugee camps were decorated in various ways - often beautiful and original.
After this short, general outline, I want to say something about Kidugala.
I was very young - I had just had my tenth birthday after we arrived and we stayed in Kudugala for over five years .
Kidugala, near the town of Njombe in Tanganyika, East Africa, was a medium-sized refugee camp. The number of people fluctuated around 1,000 plus young people attending schools from elsewhere. It was located quite high above sea level, so it had a fairly good climate for Africa. Before the First World War, there was a German Protestant mission on this site. They left behind a fine brick church, some office buildings, a hospital and partly-built school. In addition, a garden called Paradise, where vegetables and fruit were grown. It was situated in a picturesque valley with gentle slopes down to a river on both sides of which were rows of semi-detached dwellings. The river must have been quite large and quick, because a power plant was built next to it. It was the only refugee camp that had electricity. However, the supply was restricted to vital services. Houses were lit with kerosene lanterns. A water supply was also installed. The refugee camp was divided into sections each of which were served with 2 taps from which to draw water. Until then, the local population collected water from large vessels standing alongside their dwellings. Other constructions were a bathhouse with showers and even a brick factory. Bricks began to be used to extend existing accommodation and to build new homes. The dwelling allocated to us probably had a structure made of wood but built of clay by natives under British supervision. They were thatched - most likely with giant miscanthus. Instead of a window there was an opening with a shutter. A mosquito net was strung above each bed, but it did not protect against mosquitoes and almost everyone had malaria. After some time, two dwellings were built in our section No. 4 - semi-detached but now made of brick. Mum was responsible for the section, so one was allocated to us. We were very pleased because the hut was more spacious; it had a glass window and a porch. In front of the house there was a huge tree. On a clear evening, which was most of the time, a small group of friends would gather. Dyziek played the accordion and we sang joyously (my voice had changed to soprano!).
We imagined Africa as wild, full of dangerous animals and reptiles. In practice, it turned out that it wasn't that bad. However, we were instructed not to leave the refugee camps for safety. Young people, especially boys, did not take such warnings to heart, and one of them wrote to his father, who was worried about his family: “We went with Janek to see some dangerous animals that was much talked about. We didn't see any animals, but we met the manager of the refugee camp and he was really scary”.
To get to know all the beauty and exoticism of this continent, you have to travel. Older teenagers had a chance to go on organised safaris a few times, but not the younger ones. I turned ten in Kidugala. I was one of the younger ones, and this kind of pleasure passed by me. However, I did see a lion up close, only it was dead. One day the news spread that a lion had killed three native girls in the vicinity of the refugee camp. It turns out that in old age, when the lion becomes weak and cannot hunt game, man is the easiest prey. He becomes a man-eater. The refugee camp manager - an avid hunter - was already gathering a team to go hunting, when one day we heard an unbelievable tumult. We saw an amazing sight. A crowd of strangely dressed natives dancing, singing, screaming, beating drums, carrying a slain lion. They happily paraded their booty. A witch doctor wearing amulets led the procession, proud that his spells gave victory to the warriors.
On another occasion, a boa snake, a few metres long, was brought to the estate - the constrictor had swallowed a deer and was easy prey.
An interesting fact was the march of the ants. They were quite large, brown insects. The march went on for kilometres, because there were millions of them and nothing could stop them. They could even make a bridge across the river. They marched in perfect order and undisturbed disappeared somewhere into the bush. It was better not to interrupt the march, even if the chosen route led through the middle of someone's living quarters, because then they would become dangerous and aggressive. You had to wait patiently for them to leave.
There were tiny worms that worked their way into your feet, especially under the nails. There they laid eggs, creating tiny bags that had to be gently removed with a needle. Otherwise, there was trouble followed by surgery in the hospital.
Once a year we had a wonderful sight when insects swarmed (they were said to be locusts) similar to butterflies but with fabulously coloured wings.
Mosquitoes were a plague as they spread malaria. We were told to take quinine and atabrine (which made you turn yellow like a lemon). Still, almost everyone got sick - some more often, some less. My older sister was fragile by nature, she collapsed very often. Once both my sisters were hospitalised at the same time. One had the so-called blackwater malaria and the other cerebral malaria.
Our life actually looked completely normal. With the usual joys and cares. Mum worked, cared for us and worried about my brother, with whom there was no contact from Russia. Everyone was greatly relieved when we heard that he was alive and well at the school in Palestine. We attended school but were also given responsibilities. Some of them were difficult to carry out, for example: you had to go to the common room, listen to the evening news and write a report. For 11 to 13-year-olds, it was an overwhelming expectation for their age, especially since the radio was not the best, reception was poor and interference affected the sound. I don't remember how it ended but most likely the idea was dropped.
I perfectly remember when in 1943 the news reached the refugee camps that General Władysław Sikorski had died in an airplane accident. He had played a major role in freeing us from the Soviet Union. There was despair and endless tears.
Months, even years, passed. War blazed in Europe but we lived in peace. Transports with books and school supplies began to arrive. To my great joy, quite an impressive library was created, which I immediately started to use. So we were well provided with school, first cub scouts, then senior scouting and dances in the common room with gramophone records.
In general, cultural life developed quite rapidly. Evening events, theatre and ad hoc performances, patriotic variety shows were organised. Sports teams and a folk dance ensemble were established. I belonged to 2 choirs - the church choir, because we liked Fr. Maciaszek, and the school choir. I was less keen on the second because the older students dominated. I didn’t feel comfortable with them, and besides, you had to go to rehearsals, and I preferred to play rounders with the boys. However, the teacher instructed me to attend, and there was no arguing with the teacher.
At the age of 12, I passed on to middle school. I was sad because my friends - Lilka and Krysia had to go to the tailoring school. I quickly made friends with Zosia - the younger sister of Dyźek, who sang and played the accordion. He returned to Poland after the war and became a priest. I found out that he was a chaplain at the hospital in Jaworzno. Being on vacation in the area in 1970, I decided to visit him and I was shocked. He was only
3 years older than me and looked like an old man. What had happened to this cheerful, nice, singing boy?! I was very disappointed and sad because he remembered almost nothing from Africa. Overall the visit was not particularly successful.
In our spare time we kept busy with needlework. My older sister Hela could not study due to constant illnesses, but she was very artistically talented. She painted beautifully, so on the occasion of the name day of important people, she was asked for greeting cards. Someone even provided her with a set of paints. She had beautiful handwriting, and since everything was handwritten, she was readily hired in the office. She also applied her artistry to needlework. She drew beautiful patterns and transferred them to material. Unfortunately, I was not that good, but I learned to cross-stitch, so napkins, tapestries, pillows and even rugs were made by us at home.
Danusia was five years younger than me, she was still little and I really don't remember what she did. There weren't any toys, but I doubt she was bored. There were three little friends - Danusia, Wandzia and Zosia. Wandzia - two years older - started school. Danusia insisted that she also wanted to go to school. The teacher - Mrs. Rudzka - being very tolerant, accepted her. Everything was going well and Danusia only had difficulty with writing the number eight. She said she just could not draw this "bow".
Each camp solved the issue of food in its own way. In Kidugala, dinners were prepared by ladies in communal kitchens. There were two in our section. What they cooked, I do not remember. However, I recall that you had to tightly cover the vessel in which the dinner was carried home, because the vultures, which came out of nowhere lurked about ready to grab meat from the plate. Breakfast and dinner were made at home. Thanks to my mother's forethought, there was always enough food.
Contacts with the local population were not encouraged by the British. Those employed in the camps were tolerated but in general, natives were not allowed to stay overnight. Probably those (especially boys) who, despite warnings, wandered deeper into the bush, had more contact with them. I only saw a large number when they brought the dead lion, and when the bush was burning and the fire approached the camp. They were probably ordered to converge and smother the fire with branches. After extinguishing the fire, they lined up in columns and left singing. Sometimes we bought something from them, like local bananas, apricots or blueberries, which mother used to make delicious jam. You had to pay with small change (I think it was in pennies), because the coins had a hole in the middle. They could be threaded on a string or a thong and worn around the neck. Whoever had a longer necklace was richer and more important.
Finally, May 1945 arrived and the longed-for end of the war in Europe. Some of the refugees, although small in number, decided to return to Poland for various reasons, and in 1947 the first transports to England started. It was decided to liquidate the shrinking camps. Kidugala was transferred to Ifunda. My mother remained until the liquidation of the camp and after about 6 months we left for Tengeru.
We left Kidugala in a sad mood. We spent over five years here - if not in luxury, then certainly in good conditions. In addition, we had to leave the dog, which we inherited from friends who had left earlier, whom we liked very much and he liked us. An Italian priest from the Catholic mission was supposed to pick him up, but he was late. On our way out, we locked the dog in the house, but when he heard the truck move, he jumped out, breaking the window, and started running after us. I don't remember how long the chase lasted, but I know long enough for me to have a swollen face from crying. Finally, he ran out of strength and stopped. On return, he lay down in front of our door. He refused to drink or eat, tears flowed from his eyes. The neighbour was so pleased when the priest finally arrived and took him away.
After the dog was gone and my tears had dried, I noticed that we had left the bush behind. We had driven into a savannah. An endless plain covered with grass, sparsely scattered large trees, bushes and finally animals - majestic giraffes but mostly smaller game. We saw neither elephant nor lion.
On the way, we stopped at a place where we saw a group of strange looking people. Physically similar to black people, but they had white hair, pinkish-white skin and red eyes. They were albinos who suffer from a complete lack of pigment in the body. I think it's not easy for them to live in an area where dark skin colour is so important.
ix. TENGERU, AFRICA
After a night spent in the tiny Kondoa settlement we reached Tengeru.
It was the largest settlement in Africa. It had between five and six thousand inhabitants. Surrounded by lush vegetation thanks to the fertile volcanic soil. It consisted of round houses called hives. It lay at the foot of an extinct volcano - a conical mountain - Meru. However, the greatest impression was the Kilimanjaro massif. Although located almost on the equator, it was covered with eternal snow. I don't know how far it was from the camp but it felt like it was very close. The serene, dark blue sky dotted with the stars of the southern hemisphere was the backdrop for a pink mountain top, changing colours until finally away in the distance, somewhere high up only a golden border remained. This is how the evening spectacle ended before again at sunrise revealing the mountain in its majesty covered with a silver-blue cap. One cannot forget such a vision.
It was not difficult to settle in Tengeru, as the way the camps functioned and the conditions were very similar to Kidugala, although initially it was strange to live in a circular hive. However, we were glad that there was a cinema that people liked to go to when there was a little money. Tarzan was generally loved, but one movie stuck in my memory in particular. Unfortunately, time has blurred the title, but I know Deanna Durbin sang in it and the movie was very sad. During the film I shed many tears, but all my life song, laughter and tears hid just below the surface.
Danusia and I returned to school. After six months of forced vacation, I had to take an exam in Polish and mathematics. I passed successfully and joined the third grade of middle school.
The year was 1948 and having finished schooling, time had run out to take the next step. More and more frequently transports were departing for England, because the Polish army had transferred there from Italy and families were being reunited. Many people faced a difficult choice - to return to Poland or stay abroad. There was no idealised, free and independent Poland. In 1945 the Allies, in the persons of Churchill and Roosevelt, handed over our Eastern Borderlands to Stalin in pacts made with him in Yalta and Potsdam. This is where most of the Anders army originated from, so the road to their homes and properties was closed. Virtually all of Eastern Europe, including Poland, fell under the influence of the tyrant - Stalin. The so-called "Iron Curtain" had come down. Communists who were completely dependent on Moscow ruled everywhere. Only after 50 years, when Solidarity was founded and the then government was forced to agree to free elections in 1989, did Poland regain true freedom. Russian troops left Poland and the oppression ended.
As I mentioned before, mother wanted to be as far away from Russia as possible. So the decision was made that we were going to join my brother Władek in England. The choice was inevitable but not easily made. After all, Stenia with her husband Brunon and daughter Ewunia were already in Poland, as well as the rest of our large family who managed to escape from the slaughter of Wołyń in 1943. Thousands of Poles who remained were killed by Ukrainians.
x. NEW LIFE
In mid-1948, we said goodbye to Africa via Mombasa where this time we boarded the quite luxurious Carnarvon Castle. We set off on a cruise across the Red Sea passing Aden, where it was extremely hot, and we entered the Suez Canal. The ship moved very slowly. You could watch the lush green vegetation on the right and the sandy desert on the left. We passed Port Said and crossed the Mediterranean past Gibraltar to the Atlantic. After a few days, we arrived in England at the port of Southampton. Even though it was June we were greeted by fog and a huge chill. Maybe it was really very cold then, or maybe that's how we felt after being warmed by the African sun for six years. From there we were taken straight to the Daglingworth transit camp near Cirencester. Soon Władek and two cousins - Janek and Tadeusz - arrived. There was great joy after long years of separation.
Soon we were transferred again, but for a longer time, to the Stover Park camp near Newton Abbot, Devon. It was beautifully situated - surrounded on three sides by forest, and on the fourth - a golf course. There was a nice lake just across the road, where you could go for walks. During the war, there was a hospital there for wounded American soldiers. The barracks were much more comfortable than the "barrels" (Nissen huts) in other camps but unfortunately the barracks were covered with asbestos. Back then, no one knew how harmful asbestos was. On arrival we found everything was well organised as Poles had been there for several years. There was a barrack church, a very likeable Fr. Głażewski, a kitchen with a canteen where meals were prepared and served, a hospital, a library (to my joy), a common room, where performances, patriotic variety shows and dances were held where young people met and then married.
Although three years had passed since the war, everything was only available with coupons including clothes, and we were freezing in our summer dresses. My mother made our coats from regulation blankets which we wore until there were enough coupons to buy something from the shop. My first coat was cherry red.
A new stage in our life had begun. Mother looked after the house. Hela took a job decorating ceramic pottery at Bovey Tracey. In September, Danusia and I with a group of Polish girls from Stover Park began attending school in Newton Abbot. We were not there for long, because I was accepted by a Polish boarding school in Diddington near Huntington. I left at the beginning of 1949. Meanwhile, the priest had arranged places for nine younger girls (Danusia amongst them) in a private Catholic school run by nuns.
I remember my departure well, because I was very fearful. My first time alone without my mother, with only a modest knowledge of the language, travelling through London to a place called Huntington and I was only 16. Fortunately, someone met me at Paddington station, where it was necessary to change stations and I arrived at my destination safely.
I have very good memories of my time in Diddington, even though it was not for long. After a few months, the older pupils were transferred - girls to Stowell Park near Cheltenham and boys to Bottisham. Only the little ones remained in Diddington.
I will mention as a curiosity that at that time there were seven Polish schools in England: Stowell Park and Grendon Hall for girls, Bottisham and Lilford for boys, a private school for girls run by nuns in Pittsford, and private schools for boys at Fawley Court and Diddington, which after a few years combined with Lilford. It was the last year the Polish education system was followed. In 1950, a regulation came into force that required Polish schools to switch to the English system. Of course, it also applied to Stowell Park. For us - about 50 girls who came from Diddington - two classes were organised and after taking the “mała matura” (high school diploma) we finished our education.
I returned to the camp and by chance there was a vacancy in a shop (a branch of the Newton Abbott cooperative) where I found employment. In the meantime, my beautiful sister Hela met a boy - Leszek Czerniak and on December 29, 1951, they got married. After a year they had a lovely son, Zbyszek, the apple of the eye of not only parents, but also Grandma and two aunts.
After many years of wandering from country to country and from camp to camp, everyone was fed up with this nomadic life. One dreamed of one’s own place and some sort of stability. The beginnings in England were very difficult. Many people looked for fortune by going to the United States to join relatives, or on contract to Canada, Argentina and even Australia. However, most poles remained in England, despite it not being very welcoming to immigrants at the time. There was still a spark of hope that there would be some change in Europe and that one would be able to return to a free Poland. Such were the fantasies but the reality was different and above all, the priority was to take care of daily needs. But it wasn't that easy. There was a language barrier and the jobs offered to foreigners were only in heavy industry (mines, foundries), textile or agriculture. Such a fate awaited even highly educated soldiers who were allowed only physical jobs. The younger generation, who had managed to receive some education in England, began to be treated better.
In the beautiful, holiday county of Devon there was no industry whilst hotels only offered seasonal work. House prices were unattainable. Once, my sister and my brother-in-law went north for a few days to Blackpool. On the way back, they visited his sister, who had been living with her family in Blackburn, Lancashire for several years. Whilst there, they bought a local newspaper. It turned out that it was much easier to find a job there and the houses were affordable. So the decision was made to leave. To begin with they went together. They managed to gather enough money for a deposit, got a mortgage and bought a large family house on Park Avenue which even had a telephone which was rare in those days. After a few months in 1955, I joined them. All three of us worked at Mullard's, where small parts were made for TV sets. Every pound was saved to furnish rooms for mother, Zbyszek and for Danusia who would join us when she finished school. For a while there was only one double bed - the first purchase - in which the three of us slept. Over time, the house was filled with furniture and people.
In 1956, Danusia married Ryszard Wolny. A double wedding took place in Blackburn, because Rysiek's brother, Janusz, married Regina. The boys’ parents were leaving for the United States with their youngest son, Bolek, but delayed to attend their sons’ weddings. Rysiek and Janusz did not want to go but to remain in the UK with their loved ones. In 1957, the family expanded. Two children were born - Basia to the Czerniaks and Maryla to the Wolny family.
xi. AN ACQUAINTANCE
Around this time my acquaintance with Ryszard Grzybowski developed. He was visiting his close friend, Rysiek Wolny at the time I was visiting my sister. They were living in the house bought by his parents. Rysiek Grzybowski came to the UK from India in 1947 to join his father - a soldier, after he and his sister spent five years in an orphanage. They lived in Blackburn. There, he graduated from a three-year textile university and became a technologist - designer. When I first met him, he was employed in a weaving factory. Acquaintance and companionship, as is often the case, turned into love and we got married on February 15, 1958. We moved in with the Czerniaks but soon we got our own place in Park Lee Road on a hill, far from the town centre. Our first daughter Izabella Maria (Dzidzia) was born here on January 30, 1961.
Danusia and Rysiek with their children, as they now had a son Marek, decided to move to Bradford hoping for better prospects. Mother went with them.
The Czerniaks were left on their own in the big house. So when the opportunity arose we decided to buy together a pair of semi-detached houses under construction near the park on Palmer Road. We paid a deposit, arranged a bank loan for 25 years, and on completion, lived next to each other, separated only by a wall. We moved into a new, more comfortable house (because we even had central heating, which was still a rarity then) at the beginning of January 1964. We were already expecting our second child, who was to be born in July. Unfortunately, there were complications and I gave birth to my daughter in the fifth month of pregnancy. In those days, she had no chance of survival. We named her Alina Ewa. She is buried in one grave with her grandfather Klemens Grzybowski at the Blackburn Cemetery.
Doctors strongly recommended that in my situation I try to have a baby as soon as possible. It worked. At the beginning there were big problems with the pregnancy, but they ended successfully and on March 31st 1965, a daughter Pola Helena, was born. The joy and relief of a healthy, beautiful baby somewhat masked the sadness for the one we had lost the year before.
After a few years, more changes took place again. The Czerniak family decided to move to Preston, where they opened a very prosperous hotel. Their circumstances improved dramatically, although they were still working very hard. We stayed in Blackburn, but since Mother had moved in with us permanently, it became tight. We were forced to look for something bigger. It was a good thing, because around this time, things changed for us as well. Rysiek, thanks to his abilities, solid performance and generally very good reputation, was promoted to director. His salary automatically increased significantly. There were also additional benefits, such as a company car, fuel, and even a telephone paid by the company. Thanks to our improved financial situation, we could think about a move. We found a very nice house near Blackburn in the beautiful Wilpshire area. The girls had further travel to school, but we had a car, so in the morning ‘Tata’ took them, and they returned by bus. The house was very comfortable. The rooms were really spacious and most importantly there were four bedrooms, which was the goal, for everyone to have their own.
Several years passed in this way. Even though we were separated by distances then, we still met very often. We were a very close family and not only that, but also good friends. Three sisters, three brothers-in-law, six children and mother at the head. It was so beautiful until February 15, 1980, when our best, beloved, heroic mother died almost without warning. A small candle, that burned with a huge, warm flame that shone and protected us all our lives. We felt her departure very painfully. She was buried in Pleasington Cemetery in Blackburn. Years later, in 1998, our brother Władek died. We laid his ashes in Mother's grave.
After Mother's death, the Czerniak family decided to move to London, where Zbyszek and Basia lived with her husband, Andrzej. Long distances, from 4 to 5 hours by car, made contact much more difficult. So meetings were less frequent. On the other hand, we saw the Wolnys frequently until Rysiek retired. In 1996 we also left Blackburn for London to be closer to our children and grandchildren. After getting married, Dzidzia moved to London, and Pola and her husband settled in Cardiff. We bought a small house with a garden on the outskirts of London and we live in a quiet street, very close to a hospital, which turned out to be extremely useful at our age.
Once I was asked what my success in life was. I replied that a marriage that lasted for over 61 years, but above all our two daughters. They are not only our success, but happiness, pride and joy. Good, healthy, beautiful, talented and hardworking. Dzidzia graduated in law from King's College, London. She married a scientist, Dr. Marek Szatkowski. They have three wonderful children - Zosia, Tomasz and Lidia. Pola graduated from medical studies in Cardiff. She married a medical doctor David Thomas. They have two, no less wonderful daughters - Rosie and Lottie, and we just enjoy our wonderful family.
The world is not perfect, so life is not idyllic, but looking at mine from the perspective of 87 long years, I assess it very positively. Sure there were worse and better times, personal and family problems, but the worst for me is my memory of the two years, spent in Russia as a young child. A two year period which must have been incomparably worse for despairing parents hugging children dying of hunger and disease. From the moment I was given food and lice stopped biting me, I began to be a child again.
I reached the age of ten in Africa, where we were given an oasis of peace and normality. I grew up far from my homeland, but a "little Poland" was re-created there and we were brought up in a patriotic culture and love for our native country.
Soon after coming to England, I turned 16. I have spent 71 years in this country, which is most of my life. When asked if I feel Polish or English, the answer is simple - definitely Polish. For many years I have been a loyal citizen of this peaceful, beautiful and friendly country – England but my homeland is Poland. So I was happy to hear that after long and strenuous efforts, I received confirmation of Polish citizenship and in April 2019 I was given a passport by Ambassador Arkady Rzegocki at the Polish Embassy in London. It took place in the presence of the Consul, my family and guests. I felt very honoured. I accepted it as recognition of many years of social work in Polish communities.
The years have passed and circumstances prevent any more trips to explore the world, and there were many of them and they were extremely interesting. Perhaps the most important one was the pilgrimage to the Holy Land following the footsteps of Jesus Christ, the audience with the Holy Father John Paul II and the trip to Iran, where in Tehran I was able to be at my father's grave on the 70th anniversary of his death. Now only photos and wonderful memories remain.
I had serious concerns about managing to write down my memories and whether there was any point as for me they do not stand out as anything extraordinary. Finally, I succumbed to requests and persuasions from my family, and even of strangers (especially English people) who, on various occasions, learnt in brief of my life and other Poles who reached England in 1946-1950.
While writing, I was forced to reflect and the conclusion is that my life was happy, except of course bad moments such as the premature death of people dear to me, but I try not to dwell on this. I still have one sister, Danusia and I am happy I have her. Considering my years, I am healthy. I have a very good husband (although there have been a few times that I wanted to strangle him, and it was not out of love!). It's great that we can laugh at ourselves. I am glad that we have a successful relationship that has survived a long time, and that we are mutually supportive in our old age. We have the best daughters Izabella and Pola, wonderful grandchildren Zosia, Tomasz, Lidia, Rosie and Lottie, dear close and distant family spread all over the world. So it only remains to rejoice and be happy in what life has bestowed on us.
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