S T A L I N ' S E T H N I C C L E A N S I N G
STALIN’S ETHNIC CLEANSING in Eastern Poland
Tales of the Deported 1940-1946
ISBN 1 872286 88 7
Province (Województwo) WOŁYŃ
District (Powiat) Zdołbunów
I was the wife of the military settler Jan Prochorowicz and we lived in osada Lachów in the district of Zdolbunów. The nearest neighbouring village was Kurhany. The osada was part of the estate previously owned by Count Czosnowski, about half a kilometre from the Polish-Soviet border geographically formed by the river Wilia. It was of course patrolled by the Frontier Guards, the KOP. [Editor’s note: KOP = Korpus Ochrony Pogranicza. Military units formed in 1924 to protect the borders against infiltration from USSR.]
My husband, born on 2nd November 1901, was a young army volunteer in the 40th Fusilier Regiment of Lwów and had served in the First World War. In February 1920, he was posted to the Polish-Soviet front, was part of the victorious battle of Warsaw and then saw active service in Kraków. After his discharge, he was put on the civil list on 17th June 1923 and allocated 17 hectares in the osada Lachów.
Before daybreak on 10th February 1940, Soviet troops started hammering on our door with their rifle butts. I was devastated at having to leave our home and all that it represented by way of our work and achievements and especially on such a night with temperatures of minus 20 degrees centigrade. There were sledges waiting to take us to the railway station where we were loaded onto cattle trucks. Once all was ready with the doors locked, the train moved off. Inside the trucks, the temperature was so low that very often Irena’s hair was frozen to the wall.
After a dreadfully exhausting journey, we drew into the station at Vologda from where we travelled north by sledge for yet another 100 km to a forest camp called Dvinnitza in the district of Mezhdurechevskiy. This posiołek [Editor’s note: family work camps allocated by the authorities to civilians not tried or convicted of crimes] was a small island set between two rivers. The larger River Sukhona which was used by the ferry boat to Arkhangelsk and in summer to float logs to that same port and the lesser River Dvinnitza was almost always frozen over as the temperature could dip to minus 34 degrees centigrade.
Both of us were put to work felling trees while the children had to attend Russian school. Life was particularly hard as we had to endure starvation rations, back-breaking work, the perpetually freezing winter weather and the bed bugs and other vermin which caused not just illness but death, particularly of the old and the very young. As we could only leave the posiolek with a permit, freedom of movement was very limited and our days and months just dragged on seemingly without any hope of a better future.
Then out of the blue came news that the Germans had attacked Soviet territory which brought about the so-called amnesty allowing us to leave the posiolek. Our road to the Polish Army passed at the foot of the Altay Mountains and the town of Biisk some 300 km from the Mongolian border.
Now for the second time in his life, my husband volunteered to join the Polish Army and was stationed in Yangi-Yul. His enlistment meant that the children and I could leave Biisk. Our difficult journey took us first to Tashkent then Gorchakow from where aboard one of the few coaches for the use of military families attached to the first army transport, we left for the port of Krasnovodsk on 29th March 1942. The whole operation happened so quickly that by the next day, 30th March, we were aboard a Soviet ship crossing the Caspian Sea bound for Pahlevi.
There, by some miracle, we met up with my husband, all of us relieved and happy at having escaped that living hell. Though our sea passage had ended this was not the last of our wanderings. With the army, my husband left for Iran and I with the children, after having passed through a period of quarantine, travelled on to Teheran. Thus a completely new world was opened to us. To start with we could buy all sorts of exotic fruits such as dates, apricots, pomegranates and oranges, and we would be approached by street-vendors offering us large flat loaves of delicious bread.
After a few months, we left Persian hospitality on the “Orion” to be shipped to the shores of Africa. From Mombasa, trains and lorries took us inland to Masindi in Uganda where we stayed for six years. When I saw the straw huts in which we were to be housed with three families in each hut I simply burst into tears. What with the tall grass and jungle all around it really seemed a wilderness. The only facility was a water pump in the middle of each village and one wondered how we women with families would cope under these conditions.
Yet despite our problems and the unpleasant tropical climate, new little Poland emerged from these places which grew in size and numbers as more people came to join us. Slowly a new pattern of normality was arranged with schools, hospital, post-office, shops, community centre and even a church being built. Almost all the young people joined in such activities as scouting, while we women opened a bakery and a sewing workshop for our exclusive use. Since I was among the first groups to arrive I lived in the first village and found work, sewing in hospital. Shortly letters from my husband began to arrive, the first of which had been posted in Egypt.
As you know the war ended in May 1945 and a year later the 2nd Polish Corps under the command of General Anders arrived in England. Soon after that began the task of the re-unification of families and we eventually arrived in Southampton, England on 5th May 1948 and were provided with accommodation at Bosford near Leicester in Nissen huts, nicknamed “laughing barrels”.
It took a further three years before we were a complete family again when we acquired a house in Leeds in 1951. I was widowed in 1973 by which time the children had organised their own lives. My son Tadeusz emigrated to Canada and now lives in Mississauga, Ontario and my daughter Irena lives in Macclesfield, England. So far I am managing quite well on my own and take part in the reunions of settlers’ families.
Julia Prochorowicz with husband Jan and daughter Irena Os. Lachów, 1930
As with so many others, this change in direction was not without difficulties. He experienced a lack of resources – wife, money, home comforts, farm equipment, farm labourers, and all against a background of his own minimal agricultural experience.We were married on 10th February 1929. I was just 18 at the time and we began to work the farm together. It was not long before we started a family. Our daughter Irena was born on 7th January 1930 and then our son Tadeusz on 15th April 1931. Over a number of years of strenuous effort we achieved quite a lot: a large orchard, herds of livestock and an abundance of farming materials, what is more our general well-being was constantly improving. However, the outbreak of war on 1st September 1939 put an end to all of this and further deterioration followed with the unexpected attack from the East on the 17th September. This event proved to be catastrophic, not just for our osada but for the country and indeed for the entire nation.
Julia Prochorowicz with son Tadeusz and daughter Irena by her husband's grave at a cemetery in Leeds