S T A L I N ' S E T H N I C C L E A N S I N G
Name: Wanda Bitner (Krzysztofiak)
Osada Piłsudczyzna, District Kostopol
I was born in 1928 on the military osada Piłsudczyzna in the district of Kostopol. Our osada was surrounded by large Polish and Ukrainian villages. One such Ukrainian village was Pieczałówka. More or less opposite it was the very old, equally large Polish village of Hipolitówka, while further away were the villages of Antonówka, Sarny and Mokwin, all of which had mixed Polish, Ukrainian and German populations.
My parents were quite well-off. This allowed father to buy a second plot of land so that, altogether, we owned about 40 hectares of excellent fertile soil. We were five children in number, with me being the eldest. I'd already started school before the war. Our future looked pretty rosy.
Then came September 1939. War with Germany. The Bolshevik invasion of Poland deprived us of personal safety and freedom. Then for each military settler, policeman and forest ranger came the memorable day of 10 February 1940. Very early that morning, the NKVD, assisted by local Ukrainians, banged on our door. They ordered us to pack our things for which they allowed us thirty minutes; we were arrested. We discovered we were to be deported, but nobody indicated as to where. On that particular day, father was away from home. They took mother and five small children. I wanted to take my bicycle with me but the Ukrainian wouldn't let me.
We were taken to Równe on sledges on a dreadful cold day. We were placed temporarily in prison before being taken to the train.
It so happened my auntie lived in Równe and, when she heard what had happened to us, she came to say goodbye. I naively asked a guard whether I could go with my auntie to her house. In him I came up against a decent human being, because he allowed me. It was then that my brother, Rysiek, jumped from the truck and thus escaped exile to the Soviet Union. Mamma with three small children journeyed in a cattle truck into exile in Vologda Province.
My brother and I stayed for a few days in Równe before returning to the osada where my uncle, Marian Krzysztofiak, who was not a military settler, still lived. He had bought his plot of land on our osada. After arrival on the osada, we went to see our own home. It was a very sad sight. The religious pictures had been taken from the walls and smashed on the floor while the furniture had either been stolen or was completely wrecked. There was an atmosphere of complete emptiness and utter devastation. All over the osada roamed packs of hungry, sad-looking dogs, searching for their masters.
After the deportation of the settlers to the USSR, the Ukrainians became very haughty towards the Poles, their brutality being at its height following the German invasion of the USSR in 1941. Then Ukrainian gangs of militia robbed and villainously murdered the Polish population. For example, Hipolitówka was encircled by Ukrainians who doused the houses with petrol and then set them alight. All the inhabitants perished since, anyone who tried to escape the flaming village, was mowed down with machine guns. After a few such brutal attacks on innocent inhabitants, Poles left their homes and moved into the towns where it was a little safer. My uncle decided to do the same. He’d already moved a few of his possessions to Równe when one night with a carload of his goods and himself on horseback, we left his house forever. The road led through the forest where we were attacked by Ukrainians. They went for my uncle and he, realising what was about to happen shouted to his wife: ‘Run’. Still on horseback, he moved in the opposite direction. As the Ukrainians went after him, we managed to escape. My uncle’s body was never found. He gave his life for us. Another uncle met a similar fate. However, his body was discovered by his family: it was mutilated, with his eyes put out and his chest slashed. As for the Germans, because it suited their purposes for Ukrainians to murder Poles, they either assumed complete indifference to this anarchy or, alternatively, incited such evil.
Yet, after the Germans had retreated from the Eastern Borderlands, life in town became even more difficult. So as not to die from hunger, I added two years to my age and volunteered for the Polish Army organised by the Bolsheviks. They told us we’d be fighting Germans in defence of our country. In fact, the opposite happened. We were made to gaze, powerless, as Warsaw went up in flames. Our Soviet officers, under penalty of death, forbade us to come to the aid of the dying city. It was only after the failure of the Warsaw Uprising that they allowed us to enter her smouldering ruins and at night. In Warsaw, I met up with my cousins with whom I lived for a time. I went back to school so as partly to fill the gaps in my disrupted education.
Life was still very difficult. The enthusiasm for the rebuilding of Warsaw gave us the courage to live and hope for the better future. Unfortunately, again history deceived us. We very quickly realised that, instead of freedom, we had achieved communism.