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
JERZY Z ŻEGOTA - JANUSZAJTIS
District (Powiat) Krzemieniec
The end was particularly sad and difficult for those of us who happened to be the offspring of prominent parents. Mother hailed from the gentry of the Lithuanian border. Née Jelita-Dąbrowska, she was an ex-legionnaire, ex-painter and avid nature lover. In very demanding circumstances, both materially and practically, she found herself in Szyły, in a newly established and gradually expanding farm, while simultaneously involving herself in the very absorbing social and political activities of her husband, our father. She certainly did not enjoy an easy, quiet life and, taking all this into consideration, we owe her so much.
I remember many a time when as small children we were marched round the table, singing well-known, popular legionnaires’ songs, which she had taught us. At such times, father accompanied us on the mandolin, of which he was no mean player. He soon taught us this same skill, as well as the basics of reading and writing musical ‘hieroglyphics’. My God, how much versatile knowledge that man possessed. For example, he taught me professional concreting, while we were rebuilding ‘the palace’ - our house – a skill which proved very useful to me later on, in England. It was here that I managed to recreate a few of the beautiful constructions of this man, the very same one who was the ex-chairman of the Brotherhood of Military Settlers.
At the time of the German-Soviet invasion of Poland, no mobilisation papers to this still young – just 50 year old – divisional general, co-ordinator of the newly-organised Polish Army, ever came so, at the Recruitment Board in Krzemieniec he ordered that one be made out in his name and, thus armed, he bade goodbye to us and Szyły. He managed to get from Karnaczówka railway station to Tarnopol and from there, partly on foot and partly by military lorry, reached Lwów. As a matter of fact, that lorry was carrying inexperienced Polish soldiers, running scared at the dreadful toll of battle they had gone through. Father waved the lorry down by showing his membership card of the Order of the Virtuti Militari to the young second lieutenant, the driver. Later, by urging their patriotism, he persuaded them to turn back to Lwów. In this way was the first of the unit of the Voluntary Corps for the Defence of Lwów created as part of the whole defensive action. Up to the inevitable capitulation, Marian Żegota –Januszajtis was in command of this unit.
After the Lwów defensive capitulation, father went into the underground, first of all organizing passage routes for volunteers to the Polish Army in France, across the Carpathians, to Hungary. On 17 October 1939 he was arrested in Lwów and sent to Moscow. He was imprisoned in the Lubyanka, from where he suffered the fate of many imprisoned in the ‘inhuman land’.
In England, while in the Polish Resettlement Corps (PKPR) immediately after the war, he earned his living and provided for his family by cultivating mushrooms. He was a member of the National Council, a delegate of the President of the Polish Republic and organized a number of different institutions, among them, the Association of Polish Farmers in Great Britain, over which he presided for a long time. As long as he could, he helped his sons in whatever way their families needed. Mushroom cultivation and, towards the end of his life, an even bigger garden for vegetables and flowers, acted as a small but very precious substitute for his farm in Szyły.
During the last years of his life, he wrote his memoirs and, when he was no longer able to write, he recorded them on tape. On 27 March 1973, while listening to and looking at our Polish garden, forced as he was into the postion of émigré, he left us. The ashes of both our parents were buried on All Soul’s Day 1981, at the time of the rise of the independence activities of ‘Solidarity’, in the legionaires’ section of the cemetary at Zakopane. On that occasion there was a very unusual meeting with 80 year-old settler Józef Pustelniak and his son – my father’s godson – from osada Sienkiewicz. Mr Pustelniak, whom I recognized at once, despite my not having seen him for 45 years, said to me, ‘I came to say goodbye. It’s too late to welcome…’
I, the elder son, Jerzy, was the next one to leave Szyły for ever. However, my story was very different and was to do with my being sent to Paris, as a courier for the underground.
Mother was the last of the family to leave, accompanied by her son Mark and the few years old Ania, daughter of her sister, Maria Trzebiński (nee Jelita-Dąbrowska), an engineer and later a lecturer at the University of Wrocław. She stayed, for a short time, in the house of her friend from the twenties, Zofia Samolewicz, in Tarnopol. From there, ‘by underground route’ through Rawa Ruska and across the border separating the occupying powers, she, at last, and with some luck, reached the family of her sister and her husband, engineer Janusz Trzebiński. The success of this difficult, wholly exceptional and highly dangerous journey they owed to the organization and care of the soldiers of the underground.
Mother took an active part in the Warsaw Uprising, as well as in other patriotic and secret social activities. In December 1945 a messenger sent across the Czech-Polish border, met up with mother in Cracow and gave her instructions prepared by me.
I set off on a journey in a ramshackle vehicle of the Light Division, assigned to me for a filming job. By that time, the British had stopped all deliveries of better vehicles. I took with me a lance-corporal, driver and my father’s aide-de-camp, 2nd Lieutenant Adam Konopka, who also wanted to rejoin his wife. A thousand kilometres went by very quickly. We passed through the American Zone of occupation in Germany and reached Pilsen in Czechoslavakia. There, General Patton’s division was in situ, maintaining relative security from the ill-disciplined Soviet soldiers, who roamed the streets. We left Pilsen in the direction of the Czech-Polish border, accompanied by a guide, provided for us by the liason officer, an Englishman who spoke fluent Polish.
A few steps over the border, we stopped. The guide moved on ahead… Suddenly, I saw my driver kneeling on the road covered with a thick layer of snow. When I asked him what he was doing, he answered ‘Before I left home in the mining locality of Northern France, my mother told me that the moment I stepped on Polish soil, I was to kiss it’. My young driver, a Polish army volunteer from Northern France, had never before been in Poland. Similar young men from the ‘Berling Army’ – Poles, guarding the border crossing, begged me to take them West, to the Polish Army, but they understood that for many reasons, that was absolutely impossible.
In about ten days, I received the heart-warming news that my mother was already in Prague and waiting in the Catholic Centre ‘Veritas’.
There is insufficient space to describe our incredible meeting. Konopka also met his wife, but she just looked at him – after six years - turned on her heels and left. Amazingly, things like that do happen.
Just as I’d anticipated, our car refused to budge. Luckily a Czechoslovakian baron, maybe one of Konopka’s relatives, offered us the use of a beautiful Tatra, but since it had stood in a cellar for five years or six years, there was some uncertainty as to whether it would start. We removed the battery from the divisional vehicle, put it in the Tatra and, to our surprise, it moved, even forced as it was to tow the immobilized vehicle to the first German garage in the occupied zone. There, the petrified owner shouted, ‘Yes, yes Colonel Sir’ – he’d already learned a smattering of English, when I, very sharply, threatened him that, should my military vehicle disappear from his garage before either Polish soldiers, or mechanics came to collect it, he would be ‘kaput’. They arrived within a month to reclaim the vehicle and the German, happy that the episode was over, offered them schnapps.
So it was that mother moved from the People’s Republic of Poland to her son in General Maczek’s Meppen – or rather, to her sons, because her other son, Marek, following the gehenna of his concentration camp, found himself in Germay. With the arrival, from England, of her husband, our father – who at that time – was involved in negotiations concerning the documentation which would allow all of us permanent residence there, at long last the family was together again. Mother lived through both the times of resettlement and the later period, when our daily bread came from the cultivation of mushrooms. She departed this life – just prior to the liquidation of what had proved so arduous a living for us, especially since it was in a foreign country – on Epiphany, 1956.
Brother Marek’s growing up took place during the German occupation. He completed a course at the School of Photography, which embraced secret lessons in Polish subjects. He took a lively part in underground activities. In 1944, on his way to mother, in Cracow, he was hauled in by the Germans, thrown into prison on Montelupich Street, badly beaten and condemned, first to the concentration camp at Gross-Rosen, then to other similar places. This included working in the tunnels beneath the Harz Mountains, in the production of the V2 bomb. Just before the end of the war, because of the confusion caused by an allied bombardment, he managed to escape from a transport comprised of Nazi concentration camp prisoners similar to himself, despite its being closely guarded by the SS. Drained, as he became, with dysentery, his life was saved when American troops came across him in the Harz Mountains. He spent two months in an American military hospital and was later moved to a civilian camp, which by lucky coincidence, happened to be situated in the very territory held by the 1st Armoured Division, in which, he was informed by visiting soldiers of the armoured corps, his brother Jerzy was alive and well and living close by. On that very same day, I brought him to my quarters. He was enlisted into my section of the Photography and Filming Unit of the 1st Armoured Division, in which he served, until his departure to join our father in London, where he began university studies in Oriental Languages. He later worked with the rest of the family, in the mushroom business and then in our market-gardening project.
In the late 40’s, Marek married his school sweetheart from the Krzemieniec Lyceum, Janina Szwaczówna, who presented him with a son, Konrad (nowadays, a lecturer in English in Northern Italy), and at the same time our father with his beloved grandson, who owes his impeccable Polish and complete awareness of belonging to the Polish nation, to none other than his grandfather.
Once he was completely on his own, following the winding-up of the mushroom business, Marek took up commercial photography. In the meanwhile, he conceived an absolutely original idea in an exclusively abstract method of photography, which he exhibited on many occasions. For some years, he was the chairman of the Association of Polish Photographers in Great Britain. Now retired, he still continues to involve himself in this interesting and beautiful art. He lives in Horley, Surrey, not far from Gatwick Airport, where years earlier, our family began our Polish life in exile.
My fate, after leaving Szyły on 11 November, 1939, contains peculiar twists of circumstances, which convinced me in the belief that Providence was guiding them with some definite aim in view, whereby I might accomplish at least three difficult but historically important tasks. The first of these was to deliver to the Minister of State, General K. Sosnkowski, a coded message from the Polish Underground. This meant that a 19 year old boy from Lwów, having travelled the Carpathians into Hungary, Croatia and Northern Italy, reached France and our government in Paris. As I was later told by General Sosnkowski, I had delivered the wavelength used on the underground radio and indeed, while I was still there, a direct link was made with the homeland.
My second task was recording, on film, the part played by the 1st Armoured Division of General Maczek. This was achieved by filming the entire involvement of this glorious unit, despite being shot at many Times by German snipers and later, in direct line of massed enemy fire. It is for certain, the only Polish, and probably the only European historical record of the occupational advance – and was put on film by me.
My third task, satisfactorily completed, was to bury my parents’ ashes in Zakopane, and to publish the military, political and social memoirs of our father, under the title: ‘My Life – so Stormy…’ (Moje życie tak burzliwe).
In 1951, I married a ‘young volunteer’, Krystyna Bąkałowna, with whom I happily live to this day. We have three very grown-up children: Regina M.A., a teacher of music; Iwona, a singer, with a son Krzysztof, and a son, Marian, who has two children. Following mother’s death and the forced liquidation of the mushroom business, I built a similar property for an English doctor, which Krystyna and father managed for him, up to the time when I built yet another house for us using, in this instance, the competent help of my invaluable father.
We moved in when the building was only half completed and, without any break, continued the building of the other half. This construction prompted in me many methods of fabrication, which lessened the necessity of employing other craftsmen, whom, to tell the honest truth, we just couldn’t afford. Our son was born in 1960, in this London home. I patented my ideas and, in time these were used in Tunbridge Wells where, in 1966, we finally moved, taking father with us. It’s here where ‘we seniors’ still live, waiting in anticipation what will be our final move.
Jerzy Żegota -Januszajtis has written about life in Szyły before the deportation.
The house in Szyły – now a school. The windows are painted blue because there is no other paint available. The roof has lost its red tiles. The rosebushes and trees have disappeared.
Marian Żegota–Januszajtis in London,
after Lubyanka, 1941.
General Marian Żegota–Januszajtis with his son Jerzy, an officer cadet of the Armoured Division School, 1942.
On left: The military settlers on a visit to General Marian Żegota–Januszajtis, a few years before the war.
Marek Żegota–Januszajtis with his mother, 1949-50.
Marian Żegota–Januszajtis with his wife, after reuniting in 1947-48.
The teacher Anna Januszajtis with settlers children, Radów (early thirties)
Family of Marian Żegota–Januszajtis, with father Ziętara and aide-de-camp, Włodzimierz Gintowt- Diewałtowski. The General is in the tree with his son Jeryz. His wife Zofia, is below - 1922.
Jerzy Żegota–Januszajtis, the year before his walk to Paris as courier for the Polish Underground, 1938.
Jerzy Żegota–Januszajtis with his friend in Szeroka Street, Krzemieniec
Our friends in Szyły – young people from the Wyszogródek region.
The house of General Żegota–Januszajtis (Hulanicki Palace) during the rebuilding. The photograph taken from the Orthodox Church hill, Szyły, Summer 1927, by Father St. Ziętara.
A meadow on the farm, at the base of the Orthodox Church hill. The family of General Żegota–Januszajtis, with their friend, Father Ziętara, who later became parish priest in Radóe. Summer 1920.