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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
GENOWEFA LACKA (GAWEL-NOSEK)
Municipality (Gmina) Tuczyn
District (Powiat) Równe
It was 1939 and I, at 17, lived with my parents, brothers and sisters in our osada Bajonówka in Wołyń. Since my parents had a large family they worked very hard. Nevertheless we owned just about every necessary piece of mechanical equipment for running our small-holding even down to bicycles for the children and pedal sewing machines for the adolescent daughters. Plans for the continued education of the children were well established, indeed the future looked very rosy. My older sister Janina was already two years into her course as a boarder at the Agricultural College in Horyńgród where she was studying commerce and agriculture. Having obtained a place in that same school starting in January 1940, I was passing the intervening time learning cutting and design with a popular dressmaker called Giena in Karłowszczyzna.
However on 1 September war broke out with Germany and on the 17th of that month the Soviet army overran Kresy i.e. the Eastern Borderlands. The school was closed and with my sister we returned home. All manner of scary rumours started about the war and alarm spread among all the settlers.
Within a few days we were paid a visit by some Ukrainians who, without our permission, drew up an inventory of all we possessed. Then one night around the middle of October we were woken by persistent knocking on our door. A gang of Ukrainians pushed their way in and brutally announced that we had to be out within two hours, leaving everything just as it was since from that moment we no longer owned the farm.
While awakened children began crying and my parents stood dumbfounded not knowing what to do. Our farm labourer, Felek, who had his bed in the attic, rushed in brandishing a farm fork in an attempt to defend us. He was brushed aside, brutally beaten and thrown out into the yard. Turning to my father they shouted: “Get dressed, you Polish bastard, and pack only what you can get into one cart”. When mother started pleading with them – albeit unsuccessfully – one of the Ukrainians pushed her so hard that she fell right across the table. However, in the end they did allow her to bake some bread and cakes, half of which they took, of course. Meanwhile father was ordered to hitch up the horses to the cart and then, on the way to the station, he was beaten up so badly that his head was covered in blood. As for Felek he was so frightened that he disappeared without a trace and, in similar panic, we started packing. Eventually that dreadful moment arrived when we had to abandon our family home. At first we went to my mother’s parents in Ludwipol, accompanied every step of the way by an armed Ukrainian horseman whose job was to drive back with our horse and cart. Once in Ludwipol we moved in with my uncle in the forester’s lodge and in one of the classrooms of the local school.
My sister Janina and I were step-daughters of our father Stanisław Nosek and she didn’t always see eye-to-eye with him. Accordingly, when a bachelor from Równe proposed to her, she readily married him and went to live in Równe with her new husband. Nevertheless father visited Janka in December in order to deliver potatoes and other vegetables for Christmas. That was a journey from which he never returned.
Then on 10 February 1940 we suffered the same fate as thousands of other inhabitants of the East Borderlands – deportation. Loaded into cattle trucks at Tuczyn station we were then shuttled around for the next couple of days from one truck to another until eventually with yet more trucks coupled to our train, we set off to goodness knows where. After a full two days we stopped and only then were the doors unlocked and we were issued with two buckets of soup.
Our next stop proved to be Moscow where we hung about for a few more days being regularly shifted from truck to truck. Again hot soup and a few loaves of bread were doled out to us and as it turned out, these rations had to last us for the next few days until our stop at Sharya town, in Gorkiy County. There we were ordered out onto huge flat trucks pulled by tractors and taken in in this way to join lots more Poles from Polesie and Baranowicze at posiolek Południewica.
On the second day, two NKVD officials arrived with lists of deportees and informed us that everyone above the age of 12 had to go to work. I was very lucky in that I had with me a stamped certificate from the girl guides verifying that I had passed a course in First Aid and so I was given employment as a nurse in the children’s ward of a hospital.
My mother was given canteen work and my brother and two younger sisters were sent to work in the forest. As they couldn’t manage to meet the required quotas and so were denied coupons for bread and other foodstuffs, we were always short of provisions. It was in this regard that we were greatly helped by Janek whom we met on our journey.
I managed to contact my sister Janka who was still in Wołyń and through her discovered that our father had been deported to Archangelsk. By continuous requests over the next nine months to the NKVD we had him transferred to our posiolek. He was very sick on arrival but, once recovered was sent out to work.
As for me, my tolerably pleasant job turned into misery. This was brought about by the hospital manager who, having singled me out to become his mistress. Once he realised that I would not comply with his wishes, he first demoted me to a seamstress and then, as revenge, staged a theft from the storeroom for which I was blamed and sentenced to two years hard labour in a camp in the far north, a long way from the rest of my family.
While all this was happening I had met a widower, Antoni Lacki, and his small daughter Cyla. His immense kindness helped me with my problems and before long sympathy turned into love so that within the month we had contracted a civil marriage. Once my sentence was pronounced my new husband elected to accompany me, bringing his daughter with him. We were also joined by my sister Natalia. In the labour camp where I was put to work I met a very kind doctor. He advised me to simulate an illness and procured a certificate for me stating that I was unfit for work. Then using this certificate, I was returned to the posiolek and the rest of the family.
It was towards the end of 1941 that we learned of the amnesty for Polish deportees. One of our group, Mr Antoni May, visited the Polish embassy in Kuybyshev and returned bearing a certificate nominating him as a spokesman for us refugees. Transport was organised for our entire community to go south to where a Polish army was being formed. A month later we found ourselves in Bukhara. My husband enlisted in Kenimekh and my father in Guzar, while the rest of us stayed behind on a collective farm.
Following a heart attack, my sister Natalia’s health was deteriorating daily and continued to do so during the two weeks when both Cyla and I raged through a bout of typhoid. Then Natalia’s condition became so serious that she was taken into a hospital where, within a few days, she died. We ourselves buried her by wrapping her in a blanket and then taking her on an arba to the nearest cemetery. Just the three of us, Mama, my sister Karolcia and I, performed this very sad ceremony having left the four little ones unattended in the Uzbek mud hut.
Whilst we were on this collective farm we had neither food to eat nor money with which to buy any. Thus in the market at Vapket my mother tried to sell almost worthless items of clothing and tiny trinkets which she kept hidden in her corsets. Amongst these was a ‘precious’ document – the Deed of Grant for our land in Bajonówka – to this day I still have that paper.
A few months later my husband turned up on leave from the army and took me and Cyla back with him to Kenimekh, promising that the rest of the family would follow – but that never happened.
In Kenimekh I met a young woman called Jadzia who had been separated from her little son somewhere near Vapket. Once I’d collected a bit of money together I sent her off to find her son and bring him and my family back with her. It was a month before she returned, still alone not having found her son and saying my family had moved on. Since Jadzia had nowhere to live I insisted she moved in with us though our home was no more than a small mud hut near a river on the other side of which was an army kitchen and rows and rows of tents.
By now I was expecting a baby. One day just prior to the birth I felt pretty washed-out so I lay down for a rest. Suddenly I felt something moving across my face – a scorpion. I was so scared that my contractions started and I gave birth to my son Jurek on 7 July 1942 in the military hospital. There a young army doctor advised me to shout so that I would deliver quickly. Like a fool I believed him and forgetting that soldiers were close by I screamed so loudly that the entire hospital could hear me. For them it was entertainment and the doctor was killing himself laughing. Afterwards I felt dreadfully embarrassed and slipped away three days later back to our mud hut clutching my baby.
Now that I was a mother myself I understood yet more keenly just how my own mother felt for her children, my brothers and sisters, abandoned as they all were on that collective farm so very far away. On their behalf I suffered pangs of conscience believing that it was I who had left them there.
On 27 July Jadzia set off as usual to the army kitchen to collect food for lunch, but on this occasion came back with a haggard and obviously starving old woman. I thought my heart would shatter when I recognised her, for it was my mother. Over many hours of questions and answers her tragic tale came tumbling forth.
‘After you, Gienia and Tosiek had left the collective farm, I was paid a visit by some administration officers from Bukhara. They were recruiting youngsters into the Cadets from the age of 14 upwards. Since I thought it would be better for the older two, indeed there might even be a chance for them to leave the country – I assigned them to their care, and off they went to Guzar. This left the two little ones, Emilia 9 and Józefa 5, with me, but they became very ill and, since no help of any kind was available, they died. I buried them myself then set off for Guzar to join up with the other two. It was a hell of a journey especially since I was very ill on the way and so I arrived in Guzar completely exhausted.
‘I sought out the Cadet Camp and enquired at the main office which tent they were living in. I was shown into a small room where I met a lady in uniform who brought me some water then perused a long list of names. She took so long with her checking that I began to feel really on edge and started asking further questions. At this she looked up and with great difficulty said, “I am afraid both your children are dead”. Then she handed me a card which had on it: Karolina Nosek aged 17 died 20 June in the Cadet School at Guzar – and the number of her grave. Jarosław Nosek aged 14 died also at the Cadet School – and once again the grave number.
‘I simply collapsed but eventually awoke to find myself in bed in the camp’s sick bay. The nurse comforted me by explaining that I had a weak heart and had suffered a small heart attack. When, a few days later, I visited the cemetery I found them buried in graves side by side and I lay down between them praying that I might also die. As I lay there a voice called out: ”What do you think you are doing?” The voice was that of a Polish soldier who, I discovered knew Antoni Lacki, my son-in-law. He then held me by the hand and assured me that he would get me to Kenimekh where you were living. And that is just how I got here. I don’t even know the soldier’s full name but he told me to call him Franio’.
I never managed to find this Franio but I owe him enormous gratitude for saving my mother’s life.
Anyway the day of our departure for Persia eventually arrived. The army moved off in huge lorries while we, the attached families and civilians, were seated in smaller vehicles and taken to the port at Krasnovodsk. Our euphoria was indescribable - at long last we were leaving this hell behind us! My feelings were tempered with concern for my mother, both for what she had already experienced and her present capacity to withstand the rigours of this journey. Though she was only 42 she looked completely worn out and all but drained of life. As she boarded the transport she was leaving her husband and five of her children behind her in this cursed land. Moreover, no one would ever place the meanest of candles on their graves, nor bless them with the sign of the cross.
It took us a few days of cleaning, disinfection and re-clothing in Pahlevi before we left for Teheran to be housed in Camp No. 3. Yet despite these much improved conditions and the wonderful care provided by the doctors, my own health was deteriorating rapidly. I lost both appetite and weight, the hospital’s regime did not seem to help and I received the Last Rites for my journey into eternity. Now my mother caring for Jurek and Cyla, started nursing me as well.
I woke up after lying unconscious for some 13 hours to discover my mother kneeling at my bed and holding my hand. I listened as she pleaded; ‘Gienia, you have no right to die. You have children to bring up. How can I manage without you? You are the only one left. O, God hear my prayer, Holy Mother of God, help me’.
At that moment I felt the need for food – and longed for herrings and water. The doctor did not object saying; ‘You can let her have whatever she wants for it will make no difference now’. But it was not the end, nothing happened so I asked for more herrings and slowly I was getting better.
Now we were moved on to Ahvaz where we lived in vast stables in which I recall there were deep feeding troughs. My daughter Marysia was born in that town and life itself began to assume new values. After only a short stay in Ahvaz we moved on to Lebanon, but en route Marysia contracted pneumonia so we stopped for treatment at a hospital. Eventually we made it to Beirut and settled in Baobdat, a town not far from there which was up in the mountains. There Cyla started Polish school and, while I worked at a secretarial course, my mother looked after Marysia.
We left Lebanon at the end of the war travelling on the ‘Samaria’ from Alexandria to Liverpool, England. For a few years we lived in various camps and my second daughter Basia was born in the one at Melton Mowbray before we found a permanent home in Birmingham.
Unfortunately, desperately tragic news arrived from Poland. My sister Janina had been savagely murdered by nationalist Ukrainians.
Read about life on Osada Bajonówka before deportation
Kresy Family group
Apolonia Walczak from osada Bajonówka - 24.5.1940
lying dead in posiolek Poludnevitsa (Południewica)
A group from the hospital in posiolek Poludnevitsa (Południewica) in 1940
With my husband Antoni, my mother and daughters - Cyla and Marysia
My dead son Jerzy in Teheran, 7.8.1943
A few weeks later my husband arrived to spend 10 days leave with us, so in that time we christened our son. His godmother was my friend Jadwiga Olszewaka from osada Jazłowiecka and the godfather Władysław Jagiełłowicz, a captain from Lwów. In June 1943 during his next short leave my husband and I had our church wedding. Then Jureczek at just one year old became ill and I was destined to suffer yet another of life’s tragedies – the death of my son.