S T A L I N ' S E T H N I C C L E A N S I N G
Name: Bronislaw Turzyński
At two o’clock in the morning of 10 February 1940 my mother’s crying in the kitchen woke me up. I got up to see what was happening and, on opening the door, was grabbed by four men with rifles: two NKVD uniforms, and two civilians with red bands round their sleeves. They searched me to ensure I wasn’t carrying arms, then allowed me to return to the bedroom as they told us to pack our belongings for departure to the railway station in Klewań. Because he’d gone to see my mother’s family in Nova Ziemia, about 25 kms from the osada, my father was not home at the time. Mother told me to go and find father and I left through the window. The NKVD and Ukrainians heard nothing of my escape from the home, in which remained my mother, two sisters and a brother. Mother’s hope was that when they realised she was on her own, with three small children, they would not deport.
On my way to Ołyka I met one of our neighbours, Mr Dobek, who was of the same opinion as my mother. Within a short time we met my father on his way home. He’d heard nothing about the deportation and told me to continue on to my mother’s brother in Nowa Ziemia and went on to the railway station in Klewań, where he joined the family. Mr Dobek and I trudged all day, through the kee-deep snow and, since I was wearing very tight boots, all my toes became frozen. That evening we reached Kopytowo, near Palcze, where we stayed for a few days with the father of our neighbour, Mrs Pogorzelska. From Kopytowo Mr Dobek went off towards Kraków, while I went to Nowa Ziemia where I lived with my uncle, my mother’s brother, for the next three years. Suspecting that a search would be made for me I diguised my identity with an assumed name.
The times spent under Soviet rule were very sombre. For each time I passed through Ołyka railway station I saw goods trains with chimneys sticking out of the wagon roofs, on their way to Russia. On Sundays I attended church in Ołyka so that I could meet people I knew from our district. Since the civilian settlers from our osada were not deported, from time to time I’d bump into someone I knew. I was in regular contact with my family and I sent them food parcels. They were deported to a place near Kotlas in Archangel Province.
In June 1941, having had war declared upon them by the Germans, the Soviets swept all 18 year-olds into the army (later those up to 35 were taken) and put all of them into the frontline. In the very first days of the war the Germans took them prisoner and a lot of them died from hunger. They also murdered Jews and gypsies. I took a big risk and went off to our osada. Communist sympathisers, Poles from other parts of the country, had been resettled in our house and the land had been turned into a collective farm. I lived for a few weeks in a civilian settler’s home, until I received the call-up for compulsory work in Germany.
I did not report to the assembly point in Klewań , but returned to my uncle in Nowa Ziemia, staying undercover all the time. I met Mr Otawa, a forestry officer from Szwoleżerów, and through him found work at the Majdan Forest Station, where I worked for a whole year. In 1943 the Ukrainian local militia turned their backs on the Germans, left their barracks and took to the forests with their arms. It was thus very dangerous to work in the forests, which besides these Ukrainians militia now contained various Ukrainian gangs, Russian partisans and Jews. As I had no personal documents I had to quit my work and so I moved to the railway station at Ołyka, where Mr Ślązak, the station master, employed me as a points switcher. The station was run by Germans and Poles but its security was in the hands of the Cossacks and, later, Hungarians. The rail track running Ołyka – Klewań – Kiwerce was often mined and the trains blown up, so to prevent this the Germans brought out the local civilian population to guard it at night. Though their guards were stationed at five metre intervals both the trains and tracks continued to be destroyed.
In spring 1943 the Ukrainians undertook ‘ethnic cleansing’: they burnt villages and murdered their inhabitants. Around where I was staying, there were many Polish settlements: Wólka Kotowska, Nowa Ziemia, Balarka, Dermanka, Palcze Hermanówka, Przebraże. People from these places began gathering together to form larger groups and organize themselves for self-defence. One such centre, Stefańska Huta, was near Sarny and later there was another one, Pendyki, near Kostopol. The Ukrainians crushed all of these. I saw just how they marched and drove through Ołyka station. In Przebraże a few thousand gathered under the command of (although I admit, I am not absolutely certain of the name) Mr Malinowski, an old Russian Imperial Army colonel, to defend themselves against the attacks of gangs of Ukrainians. Simultaneously Poles from Przebraże attacked Ukrainian villages.
All Polish villages were put to the torch and their inhabitants fled to such towns as Łuck or Równe. Many were murdered and this included my 80 year-old grandmother, an uncle and two of his sons. During the night people used to take refuge at the railway station in Ołyka where there was a bit of security, but Granny declined to leave her village and one of my uncles found her murdered in the barn. He buried her near the cross in Nowa Ziemia. Almost daily one could witness somebody either newly killed or injured.
In the winter of 1943 the Germans deported all railway workers for compulsory labour in Germany.
We journeyed through Kowel, Chełm, Lublin, Przemyśl, Kraków, Oświęcim, Dreznoand Frankfurt, as far as Saarbrücken. Here, interned in a prison camp, I worked on the railway station at Burbach cleaning lamps, signals and repairing tracks. Saarbrücken was bombarded day and night. The prison camp was completely destroyed and I was buried under rubble of the building and lost all I had. We were moved to another camp in Kleinblitersdort, about 10 kms from Saarbrücken, which was mainly used for Russians and it was from here that we were freed by the Americans in January 1945. Straightaway I enlisted in the Polish army in Trier, went via Marseilles to Italy where I was assigned to the 16th Pomeranian Infantry Brigade. At the end of the war I enrolled on a further education course in the Academic Centre in Alessano. From the moment I joined the army, I instituted a search for my family with whom I was last in contact in 1941. Through the services of the Beirut branch of the Red Cross I found my whole family in March 1946 living in Northern Rhodesia.