'My Story' - excerpts from Romuald Lipinski's memoir
On the political scene, there were important developments. Since the Germans had attacked Russia, the Soviets joined the allies in their struggle against the Nazis. As a result of this, sometime by the end of July 1941, the Soviet papers announced that they had started talks with the Polish Government-in-Exile, in London and, on the basis of these talks, all Poles who were either exiled like us or were arrested and found themselves in the Soviet Union would be granted amnesty.
Additionally, a Polish Army was to be formed out of these people under Polish command, to fight the common aggressor ‑ the Germans. The Polish Embassy was established in Kuybyshev and the staff of the Polish Army in Buzuluk. Our life, meanwhile, was not affected immediately by these events. Upon hearing about the amnesty, my father wrote to the staff of the Polish Army asking them where we should go to join the army: he, as a doctor; my mother, as a nurse (she was a qualified midwife, and in World War I she was a nurse); and I, as a volunteer. To our surprise (in Russia when a letter comes it is an event), a response came instructing us to go in the area of Tashkent because the Polish Army would be evacuated to that region quite soon also.
My father decided to act: he organized the Polish people at the Vostochnyi Poselok and convinced them that it would be better for us if we moved south to Tashkent - if not to join the Polish Army, we would at least gain the protection of the Polish authorities and the climate would be warmer in the winter. Also, since the climate was better there, it would be easier to find something to eat. They listened. My father found 54 people who were willing to go with us. I will always admire my father's insight and his common-sense approach to life ‑ the decision to get out of Barnaul was one of his best achievements. We found out later that, soon after we left, the Soviets changed their minds about many things regarding our freedom; they did not allow anybody else to leave Barnaul and the people left there had to fight for survival until the end of the war.
So, my father organized this group of people to go south. It wasn't supposed to be a luxury type of a trip. They hired two box cars, and they collected, if I remember rightly, 250 roubles per person and the two cars were to be attached to a train going to Kokand, which is in the Fergana Valley, near to Tashkent. There were some agonizing moments when the station master on the last day said that there were some changes in his orders and he was not able to provide the cars. My father quickly recognized the fact that all he wanted was a bribe. They collected quickly an additional 400 roubles and my father delegated one good-looking woman to go to talk to the station master. During the conversation, when she was pleading for the damned cars, without saying anything, she just put the envelope with the money in the drawer of his desk. He didn't promise anything and there was no talk about the money at all but, at the appointed time, a man came and said that we should go to the station, the box cars were waiting. It was already mid to late October when we were loading our things onto the cars. It was getting cold.
After a long and tiring journey (at least a week or ten days), we arrived at Kokand. Kokand is a fairly large town, located in the Fergana Valley, a very fertile area, about 200km east of Tashkent. This was the Uzbekistan Republic. We rented a room from a local Uzbek family and anxiously waited for any news about the Polish Army.
This was my first exposure to oriental life and environment. The Uzbeks are Muslims, very keen on preserving their customs and religion. They had definite Mongolian features. They hated the Russians and their communist regime which destroyed their traditional way of life. The entire southern belt of the Soviet Union comprising Kyrgystan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and most of Kazakhstan was subjugated to the Russians after the 1917 Revolution.
My father's idea of moving to southern USSR proved to be a good one. There was plenty of fruit and vegetables and, of course, the climate was much better than up north in Barnaul, where the temperature could go down to -40°F. On the other hand, we were very handicapped by our lack of knowledge of the Uzbek language.
We had been in Kokand for about two weeks when one morning the NKVD came to us and ordered us to collect our things and be ready for travel. They told us that they were going to take us somewhere where we would be under the jurisdiction of the Polish authorities. Hearing this news, we quickly gathered our worldly possessions and were ready. We were loaded this time not onto red freight cars but onto regular passenger cars and started to move back north. We were very apprehensive about this, but somewhere near to Semipalatinsk the train stopped. We were there for about ten days and then, without any explanation, our train was moved back through Tashkent, Kokand, Fergana, to the last station on that railroad line, Osh, in Kirghiz SS. There, we were loaded onto open trucks and after traveling for about four hours we came to a kolkhoz (collective farm) "Pravda."
We were allocated a large room for several people. In that room, there was our family of three plus two elderly ladies. The room we were living in was in a typical Kyrgyz house. Under one wall there were sleeping quarters, usually on a pile of cotton blankets and in the middle of the room there was a sump where hot charcoal was put during winter. The entire family would sit around that sump with their legs in the sump and a big blanket to cover the hole. This was the way to keep warm. We would sit like this for most of the day with only interruptions necessary to answer the call of nature or to prepare food. On the other wall, there was a fireplace where cooking was done. The houses were made out of clay and I don't remember what was used for the roofs. Everything was very primitive. They did not have even the most elementary provisions for personal hygiene. Every day, women would take their blankets outside to do "voshoboika" or killing of lice. Also, one of the main occupations was to remove lice from each others' heads. Lice deserve a special mention. They were so common in Soviet Russia that having them was practically a way of life.
The Kyrghyz people in kolkhoz Pravda were quite friendly to us. They recognized the fact that we were "people in disgrace" in the eyes of the Soviet government. They hated the Soviets themselves, so we had a common enemy. They told us that there was a legend that, when a Polish bugler will play in Samarkand, all people of the southern belt in Soviet Russia will regain their independence. At that time it seemed ridiculous but, when I think of the events that took place since that time, in view of the collapse of the Soviet Union, maybe there was some truth in it.
Once a week, two or three of us had to go to the regional town, Naukat, about 15 kilometers, to bring bread for the Polish population of the Kolkhoz. The bread was given to us for free. It was carried on horses and we went on horseback. I liked to go because I liked riding a horse. Naukat was a typical Kirghiz town, with its market place and chaihanas. The personnel in the most important offices were Russians.
Sometime in February 1942, we got the news that the Polish Army had moved from Buzuluk (Siberia) to the south of USSR and the headquarters was located in Jangi-Jul, near Tashkent. Various detachments of the army were located in different localities throughout the area. Also, there were rumors that a few Polish officers had shown up in Naukat to recruit volunteers to Polish Army. This was only for the Poles - no room for Russians.
Now was the time to act. One frosty morning (snow was on the ground) I and another young fellow, without saying anything to anybody, set out for Naukat. There was indeed recruiting going on, and there were some men already in the office. The officer, in British battledress, with Polish insignia, told us to wait. Then he told us that we are too young to be drafted into the army, (I gave him my true age which was 16) but we could go to the Cadets. This was a paramilitary organization for boys and girls. There was also another organization of Junak (pronounced Yunak). I think that the Junaks were for elementary school and the Cadets for high school. It was set up similarly to the military academies in the USA; they attended classes and also had military training. Upon attaining the age of 18, they would be drafted into the regular army.
Although I was disappointed that I would not be eligible to go to the army, I agreed to wait for my turn to go for a physical examination and be drafted into the Cadets. While I was waiting, my parents came running to the recruiting office together with the parents of my friend. There was a scene that I will never forget: mothers crying, fathers begging, and we, the young future soldiers confused as to what we should do. My mother went to the officer arguing with him that I was too young and that, if I went, they would be left in Russia without any help and support in their old age, that he had no right to take away the only child that was left for them. I did not want to leave my parents in this God-forsaken land all by themselves. I knew that in Russia, once you were separated from your family, you never knew if and when you would ever meet them again. My father was already 62 and my mother was 60. We went back to the recruitment office and talked to the officer. He said that there was a shortage of doctors in the army and, in spite of his age, my father would certainly be given a post if he applied. He was not sure about my mother but he sounded encouraging. At that time, my parents solemnly promised me that they would do everything possible to get to the army so at least, if I went, they would not be left behind in Russia. My friend made a similar bargain with his parents. I knew that, once in the army I would not stay with my parents, but at least I would have a clear conscience that I had not left them alone in Russia. So, we all went back to kolkhoz Pravda.
To our surprise, about three weeks later my father was called to go the Voienkomat (Russian military post). Guessing that there might be something from Yangi-Yul I went with him. My father went into the office and I waited for him, all excited, in the waiting room. After a few minutes my father came out from the office with a telegram in his hand. I will never forget what it said: "Edward Francowicz Lipinski is to leave immediately for the Polish Army in Jangi-Jul as a doctor, his wife Salomea as a nurse, and his son Romuald Edwardowicz as a volunteer. Provide them with per diem and free transportation." You will notice that my father's name was Edward Francowicz and my name Romuald Edwardowicz. This is the Russian way of using the patronymic of a person, and since my grandfather was Franciszek Lipinski, my father would be Edward Francowicz.
So, full of joy, we went back to Pravda and announced the news to my mother. Immediately, my mother started to give away the things that she considered as unnecessary for us. Everybody was envious of our good fortune. I don't know what happened to the Polish people in Pravda or in general in that region because in all my travels I have never met anybody who was with us in that part of Russia.
The Soviets provided a truck, the tickets, money and we were on our way. We spent a night in Naukat and on the next day we arrived at Osh. Our trip was not without difficulties because a couple of times our truck was stuck in the mud and we had to dig it out. We got on a train in Osh and, after a change in Tashkent, we arrived at Jangi-Jul.
Meanwhile, the Soviets were not providing answers to the questions posed by the Poles about the fate of thousands of Polish officers captured during the 1939 campaign; they were not fully collaborating with the Polish authorities regarding the release of all Polish citizens in their prison camps. It was obvious that the Russians were forced to change their attitude towards Poland because of the German invasion, and it would just be a matter of time before the honeymoon period between the two governments would turn sour. Later, events proved this to be correct. Forty five hundred Polish officers were discovered in mass graves in the Katyn Forest, and the fate of the remaining 15,000 Polish officers was never disclosed. There were rumors that they were loaded onto a ship which was sunk in the White Sea. Nobody knows for sure.
9 Battle of Monte Cassino
11 Life After the War
Kolkhoz "Pravda" (in Russian "pravda" means truth) was in the region of Naukat which was located at the foothills of the Pamir Mountains, near to the Chinese border. It was located in a valley and one could see the snow-covered mountains, maybe five kilometers away.
The Pamir - Edward Herzbaum