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) Łuck
You can never forget a date like 1 September 1939 when Germany attacked Poland, thus starting World War II, or 17 September 1939 when the Bolsheviks stabbed us in the back, and certainly not 10 February 1940 when the NKVD came to arrest us forcing our exile in the Soviet Union. Such dates changed our destiny forever.
We lived in the military osada Karczówka 20kms from Łuck in Wołyń. In the middle of the night, we heard rifle butts slamming on our doors and the words ‘Get ready with your possessions’. Father, considering that the danger of being arrested would only affect him as a former legionnaire and not expecting the whole family would be deported, was in hiding. Mother, half-bewildered, packed clothing, shoes and bedding. During this time, sledges full of other settlers were arriving in our yard.
Come the dawn, we were taken to the station in Rożyszcze, where cattle wagons awaited us. Inside, along both walls, were two rows of wooden bunks, one on top of the other; in the centre, was an iron stove for heating; and in one corner there was a hole with a seat - the toilet - which we screened off with a blanket. The long journey in those wagons proved to be a nightmare. From time- to-time, we were given some hot soup. The children slept on the top bunks and I recall one night we were wakened by our younger sister, Ira, calling out that she couldn’t lift up her head. What had happened was that her thick, long hair had frozen to the wagon’s metal walls. After five weeks’ journey, we were ordered to disembark at Kotlas near Archangel where sledges again awaited us. Now, for a further two days, we were transported along the frozen River Vychegda in the incredible cold, indeed so cold that some infants froze to death.
We ended up in posiołek Nyanda - a collection of about 20 huge barrack huts for deportees and a few small ones for the commandants and the guards, set in a clearing in the very dense forest. In each barrack, built of course from logs, were 12 rooms along a central passage. The cooking and heating stove facility was shared by two rooms. Of the 20 or so settler families in our hut only one -the Zielińskis - came from Karczówka. Each family had a room in which were bunk beds and straw- filled mattresses. The floor crawled with cockroaches, armies of house bugs multiplied in the crevices between the logs and each night we were bitten by bed bugs especially on our necks and faces. Our fight with such vermin bore no favourable results because they came from neighbouring Russian families who didn’t bother to eliminate them, simply admitting ‘You get used to it’.
Being under 14, my sister and brother attended school but, since I was 15, I had to go with mother to do such strenuous work as cutting trees, slashing and clearing logs of their branches, moving the logs to the river bank and pushing them down into the water for floating. Such work lasted from dawn to dusk, six days a week. Work brigades were formed and told just how much work was the set quota. To each family a small plot of land was assigned. This was meant for the growing of potatoes, but it had first to be cleared of trees. In the shop, there was nothing to buy other than Russian bread, but just occasionally fish soup was available in the dining room. In the neighbouring posiołek matters were even worse for, there, people were starving.
Next to us, lived an elderly Russian couple who told us about the previous deportations emphasising that Stalin did not treat his own citizens any better than us. That first transport had arrived in this area during the winter, was unloaded onto the snow and ordered to start building houses. Not one of that group had survived but the next one came during the summer and managed to build dwellings for themselves and future deportees. However, in the end, most deportees died from hunger and the cold. A few kilometres from our settlement was a Polish POW camp, whose inmates were extending the rail track north from Kotlas. These men were all terribly undernourished and suffering from night-blindness, that means they could not see in the dark. Thus, one evening, returning from work Indian file along this track, they found themselves on a bridge when the guard at the end of the column saw a wagon detached from a train bearing down on them. His shouted warning was swallowed by the wind and nearly all the men perished under the wheels of the truck.
In 1941, following Germany’s attack upon the USSR, we gained an amnesty and we were allowed to go South where General Anders was forming a Polish army. Yet, once again, we travelled for weeks in goods trains which were often shunted into sidings to give priority to those convoys travelling to the battle front. On the stations we could only get boiling water and subsisted mainly off the dried bread prepared by mother prior to our setting off. We were unloaded on the banks of the River Amu-Darya and told to await a ferry which would take us to collective farms on the other side of the river, in Uzbekistan. One day a man - really little more than a skeleton - turned up and loudly warned us with, ‘Dear friends, don’t go across there, they’re all dying of hunger!’
Because of this, we refused to go, and were provided with carriages in a train which crossed the mountain range and then, by camels and arbas, were taken to collective farms in Kazakhstan. All around us stretched the steppe, not graced with one single tree. We lived in mud huts among the local nomadic people who had no knowledge of tables, chairs or beds and we worked either picking cotton or clearing ditches for the irrigation of the fields. After a few months, leaving my mother, sister and brother behind on the collective farm, I set off to join the army which was being formed somewhere further south. Of this period, I do not recall very much, probably because I was very ill first with dysentery and later with malaria in a Polish military hospital where many died of typhoid.
Upon recovery, among my documents, I found a small identity card written in both Polish and Russian, supplied by the Polish Army Command in the USSR, and stating that I was a member of the Special Regiment in the Cadets. It was a few weeks following my leaving the collective that my uncle, Lieutenant Ignacy Pajdowski, sent a Polish soldier along for my family, his own and some others - about 30 people all told - who were supposed to accompany him on their way for departure to Persia. Before the war, this uncle had been a judge in Łuck, and was arrested in 1939, made a prisoner of Kozielsk and was one of a few who escaped murder in Katyń. Before we left the USSR, we were issued with British uniforms. It was only one or two kilometres from the station in Krasnovodsk to the ship but I was so weak that I could not manage my own baggage which was carried for me by an Uzbek who did this in exchange for one tin of British food.
Thus, in August 1942, after two and a half years in the ‘Soviet paradise’, I left for Pahlevi and, after passing through Tehran, went to the grammar school in Isfahan. My new period of learning did not last long for, in January 1943, I was moved first to Iraq and later to Palestine. I was attached to the Air and Sea Group and posted to Great Britain where I was to join the Polish Parachute Regiment of General Sosabowski’s Brigade. However, because of an attack of malaria, I did not board the ship but was taken to hospital spending quite a while under medical care in Egypt and Palestine. Indeed, it was not until October 1943, that I arrived in Liverpool from where I went on to join the 8th Battalion of the 1st Armoured Division of General Maczek in Scotland. I entered the NCOs’ military school and spent my first leave from there with Mr and Mrs Peacock. Professor Peacock was a lecturer in Biology at Dundee University. Both he and his wife were very active on behalf of Poles and Poland. He had already delivered a lecture concerning ‘the Rights of Poland’ and, after being prompted by Marian Hemar, he was encouraged to print it under the title ‘Now we see twice as much as before’. He was decorated with the Order of Polonia Resituta by General Anders in 1952.
In February 1945, I began school for the third time, in the J. Słowacki Polish Grammar School in Glasgow. My first grammar school entrance examination had been before the war in Łuck. This time, nothing interrupted my studies and, following demobilisation, I received a grant a for a 4-year R & T.E. Course at the London Northern Polytechnic. My demob. finally happened in October 1948 after more than six years in uniform.
(To complete my family’s story) … My father, Tymoteusz, went from Volhynia, then under German Occupation, to his family’s hometown of Urzędów where he stayed throughout the war using an alias. He worked in the underground and joined us after the war in London. My mother, Natalia, was so very ill with a vitamin deficiency in Kazakhstan that, when she joined the Polish Women’s Units, hoping thereby to help escape from the USSR, her condition of health became so poor she had to be carried on the ship bound for Pahlevi. There, she was taken to hospital and given the Last Rites. On one particular night, half-conscious, she looked around her in the semi-darkness of the hospital tent and noticed that all the people around her were quite still. When the hospital orderlies came with a stretcher, she asked where she was. They were petrified at the sound of her voice and quickly took her back to the hospital from what was the mortuary. Mother had sent my sister, Irena, and brother, Edmund, to the Cadet School while they were in the Soviet Union but, after arriving in Persia, they were in school in Isfahan. Here, mother joined the Women’s Service and placed my sister in the Girls’ Cadet School in Nazareth and my brother in the Cadet School in Barbara. Both spent most of their time in Palestine but, upon arrival in England, my sister gained a grant to study dentistry in Dublin, then practised in London. Following her retirement, she sent all her surgery equipment to Poland. After his schooling, my brother emigrated to the United States.
In writing the above memoirs, I was helped by my sister. Together it was easier to recall all these nightmarish experiences which we underwent in the Soviet Union more than half a century ago.
Irena Bieżańska (Pajdowska) has written about life in Karczówka before deportation.
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Mama, sister and brother in Isfahan,1943
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In the third week of the Normandy invasion, I was wounded in the leg as our division, in a very bloody action, closed the Falaise Gap taking some 5,000 prisoners as we stopped the Germans getting through. Loss of blood caused me to lose consciousness and I do not remember how I was shipped back across the Channel to England. I spent six months in hospital with my leg in plaster - first an English hospital and then in the Polish hospital No. 4 in Ormskirk. In The Polish Daily of 30 August 1944, under the headline ‘Our wounded cannot be left so much alone’, Halina Tomaszewska wrote, ‘taking me onto a ward, the English nursing sister pointed to a blonde-haired young man and asked me to tell him in Polish that all the hospital personnel were grateful for his outstanding patience and endurance. The man in question was 18 year old Józef Pajdowski who had been very badly injured during the attack on Falaise - and after three transfusions and two operations it still wasn’t known whether it was possible to save his mortar-damaged leg. Józef had come to England via Archangel - and now, with great patience and enormous courage, was submitting himself to this extensive treatment …’ etc.
At the end of July 1944, we boarded ships in East London and, by 1 August, we were on the beaches of Normandy. The 1st Division went into action during the second week of August. While passing through a small place between Caen and Falaise, I heard a piercing sound. This was caused by mortar shells which killed both the company commander and his signaller. The new commander instructed me to take two soldiers to bury the dead. We dug a grave in an orchard by the side of the road and, even as we went to collect the bodies, heard that screeching sound again - an occurrence which was several times repeated. Then, a German observer was killed in the tower of a nearby church, from which by radio, he was directing the mortars onto this short section of road.
Józef Pajdowski in Scotland, 1944.
Kresy Family group