THE EXILE’S FATE
The Sea – the same sea
Two shores – two worlds!
On one decimated
Defeated – dregs of war
On the other – saved
With an uncertain future!
Somewhere behind us a long way off
Remained our homeland still bleeding
While we, helpless, start
A new phase of our fated homelessness
Iran – Teheran – Ahwaz
In times past, somewhere close by, one hears
Was the Bible’s Paradise
Not for us!
Banished, like the first parents
Of our human race
We journey further along our exile road.
India – Karachi
A breather – the exiles rest
Before us – an expanse of ocean
Seemingly tranquil – not tranquil
But tunnelled by enemy submarines
Man’s invention – but the exiles
Also – are themselves people.
In time the shores of the Black Man’s Home
What’s now in store, oh, Unknown Fate!
For how long tossed about
By the wind of uncertainty!
Hope a ray of light
In the cloudy sky
Of our fate. Hope remains and so we live
Here in the Black Land – a welcoming soil,
Our home – for a very long time!
Polish school! At last what joy!
Thus began the struggle to save
Very young Polish souls.
We entered a new world – a world of youth!
Polish school – miniature homeland
In exile far from Her
Who still sheds blood.
What heart-wrenching homesickness!
Through my soul’s eyes I view her
In each season of the year – how very beautiful!
While here, heat like boiling lard
Settles on our poor young heads
As we absorb knowledge!
The air quivers – shimmering with heat,
Cicadas – tom-toms.
In vain comes restful sleep beneath the baobab
When will I see my tortured country!
Will any be able to see it again?
To which part of the world
Will these just fledged nestlings fly?
Where will they perch and where come to stay?
Will there be hospitable land
To take them to its heart?
Where will they build their nests?
February 1948 – maturity – school certificate!
At long last! Return to the homeland of my dreams
Thousands of kilometres but yet so close!
But what will we find there? How sincere her welcome?
As in J. Slowacki’s verse
‘To Zofia B?’
Or differently? Time will tell?
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
ZOFIA WALERIA RYDZ
OSADA WITOSOWO (originally called JANKOWCE)
District (Powiat) KRZEMIENIEC
The other families also taken from osada Witosowo that night were Wnęk, Tatarczyk, Teliga, Karpenek, Kopec Cygański, Jasiński, Mańkowski, Hegier and Maciejko.
We crossed ourselves as we left the family nest and did so again as we set out on the road before us. On the way to Krzemieniec we joined other families sharing the same fate. At the railway station there were crowds of deportees being placed on the already drawn-up train wagons. Their heavy doors were slammed to, barred from the outside and then we moved off. Different passengers reacted in different ways – some cried, others swore and cursed fate, while others prayed or quietly surrendered to the inevitable.
After a few hours we were in the frontier station Zdołbunów where we were moved to wagons adapted to the wider gauge tracks. In this manner we travelled for almost a month, moving ever further and further into the depths of Russia – North. The increasingly severe chill in the wagon causing bedding to freeze to its sides, indicated that we were moving into the region of severe frosts. Lack of fuel made our life miserable so bit by bit men began to shorten the bunk beds and, in so doing, saved us from freezing to death.
Then came the day that the engine stopped and we were at Kotłaś in Archangelsk Province. The order was given: “Start getting out”. The Polish refugees were greeted by an amazing cavalcade of sledges – very many indeed and each pulled by two pairs of dogs. We now travelled towards the northern lights. How many kilometres we covered daily no-one knew. After a nightly rest in the cottages of local people we travelled on until we were apparently some 100 kilometres away from Kotłaś.
One day this dog caravan stopped at some wooden barracks, closed in all around by forest. We had arrived at posiolek Jareńga on the bank of the river Vychegda. It was March 1940. Our family was allocated a unit of accommodation meant for six people. In fact this meant that someone regularly slept on the floor but it was always difficult to fall asleep for we spent half the night killing off the bed bugs.
Our sole outlet to the world was the river Vychegda. We children spent a lot of time on its banks. In spring we watched timber floating by and sometimes we saw barges and steamboats sailing back and forth to the town of Jarynsk, 9 kilometres away.
The work was very laborious but varied, though mainly concerned with timber. The main tasks were the felling of the forest, the moving of the logs and later floating them on the river, the preparation of fuel for the steamboats and many other tasks of which we children knew nothing. All those able to work had to do so. The children went to school. However, since we had no felt boots, my sister and I couldn’t attend; so during the winter we stayed in the barrack huts.
At the start mother was employed producing something which looked like the straw rope that is used for binding sheaves of corn except that this was made out of young flexible pines and was used to lash logs together to form a raft which in the summer would be floated down the Vychegda. I don’t know whether I can explain just how these ropes were made. It was done something like this: in a clearing stood a tall upright post with a hole cut through at the bottom, while the top was fitted with a kind of clamp which could be turned. The thick end of the young pine was slotted into the hole at the base and the thin end into that clamp. When the clamp was turned and as one walked around the post one had to twist it and crush it to such an extent that in time it was limp and flexible, and suitable for binding the logs. In this work, as for everything else, there was a norm to be achieved and this one required a very strong grip. Mother never accomplished the norm for in no time at all she suffered from torn tendons. After a while she was moved to another job which was arranged on a three-shift pattern. This was floating timber but this only came about in early summer, and after a ghastly tragedy which affected our family in May 1940.
Our father with some other men were employed in some land excavation which involved the transportation of a huge reel of cable. This reel was hoisted on to the back platform of a lorry and the workers took places on both sides of it; the sides of the lorry were not raised. When they had almost reached the worksite the driver suddenly made a sharp turn and all the men and the reel were swept off. It fell on my father crushing his chest. Unfortunately he died on the strenuous boat journey before arrival at hospital in Jarynsk. We were not the only ones to suffer from this accident. Father, however, was the first victim of the exile and the first Pole from our group who was to remain forever in this hostile land, far from his own country.
Now we remained on our own with mother – we youngsters, old granny and the 15-year-old boy refugee. Following my father’s death, the Soviet authorities granted us a pension which, in our situation, proved very helpful. Mother took up a job floating timber. This was very dangerous work and particularly so for a woman. She had to stand on a footbridge, and by driving in a spiked boat hook, had to separate the logs according to their girth and then direct them through the most appropriate opening. One day she stuck the spike too far into a log and not having enough strength to withdraw it in time, was dragged from the footbridge into the water. Luckily she wasn’t sucked under the other logs. Russian workers rushed to her aid. After this event she was moved to work on terra firma sawing wood for fuel for the steamboats. Yet again a norm was obligatory and mother couldn’t meet it but, once trained, the Russian women showed her how to do it so that the norm appeared to have been reached.
That was in 1941, the second year of our stay in the Siberian taiga. The German/Soviet war broke out. More and more we were beset by a lack of bread and other food. That summer news reached us that an agreement had come into being between Stalin and General Sikorski representing the Polish government in London. Through this negotiated agreement we were free and could leave the posiolek. So began the exodus of Polish exiles to the Asian part of the Soviet Union where a Polish army was being formed under the command of General Anders. As we journeyed further away from posiolek Jareńga our hearts bled with grief in the knowledge that our beloved father was to remain there forever.
We travelled on and on for a very long time, as the roads from the north to the southern Asian Republics were measured not in hundreds but in thousands of kilometres. We ended up in Tashkent having met other transports of Poles. From them we learned that besides the army being taken by water from Krasnovodsk across the Caspian Sea to Persia so, in batches, was the civilian population. Thus we were now very close to our destination but, unfortunately our happiness was premature.
Our transport came to a halt just outside Bukhara. We thought this stop was simply to take on a water supply, but then we heard an order to get off.
Arbas were already waiting at the station for us. Only children and old people were allowed on these, the rest of us had to walk which meant that only granny rode. Ignacy, now 17 years old, somehow or other slipped away and joined the cadets run by the army.
Our family now consisted of four people. In the choking dust and scorching heat of the Asian steppes this journey dragged on for three days. We were brought to a settlement of mud huts at the foot of the mountains. Some distance away was a collective farm surrounded by a high fence. The farm’s main business was the breeding of sheep and pigs. There was also quite several goats, donkeys and oxen. Our family was provided with a windowless mud hut and there we had to settle down. Our seating was mats. Huge vats of water stood in front of each hut while on the outside walls there hung sacks, probably made from goat skins, to hold more water which was always cold despite the terrific heat. Donkeys were used to draw water from the very deep wells.
Just like all the other Poles, mother was given work to do on the collective farm. She was made chief swineherd and I, her younger assistant. The payment for this work was flat bread and milk. All these God’s creatures had to be led to the watering hole in the valley. All the shepherds brought their flocks to this place and we did the same with our pigs. Once during our stay on this collective farm we were invited to a general party organised for all the collective farm workers. This worked out like this: the locals sat on what looked like terraces close to a huge bowl of mutton broth into which they all put their flat-breads. These, they later retrieved by hand, and this is how they ate. We were positioned apart from them and, after a lengthy wait, we were handed just one huge spoon for us all to share and were instructed as to how to use it. Like a pipe of peace, it had to go round from person to person.
One day, after a few months of our stay in that collective farm, there came a delegate for the refugees with news that we would soon be able to leave. At this, we band of paupers got together and set off on the road. At Bukhara station where we went, we joined up with similar lucky groups and were again loaded into wagons. We set off in an unknown direction criss-crossing Uzbekistan but getting even further away from Krasnovodsk. Eventually the train stopped some distance from Samarkand. Once again we heard the order “Get out” and for a second time our eyes were met by the sight of arbas harnessed to oxen. This time we were taken to a very compact settlement. Our family and two others were temporarily housed in a mosque, which hadn’t been used as a religious sanctuary for a long time. After a while we were shifted to another district nearby where each family was separated from the others by a few kilometres. However, there was no difference in the shabby mud huts and our having to sleep on the floor.
So we continued our wretched existence at the beginning of which we received just 300 grams of millet per person. With this millet, including the chaff, mother made what you might just call soup. Later even this ration came to an end because the local people themselves were very hungry. We were now driven to collecting all sorts of weeds such as wild sorrel and sow thistle from which we made a salad – as bitter as wormwood. Maybe it was thanks to the vitamins they contained that we didn’t suffer from scurvy but I didn’t entirely escape the general lack of vitamins as I lost the nails from both my toes and my fingers. Then granny began to swell from hunger and also had dysentery. I fell victim to malaria and blood-dysentery as well. This type of dysentery and typhoid were decimating the Polish refugees in Uzbekistan. Providence proved to be my only doctor in allowing me to survive all this. I also suffered muscle deterioration and my right leg became affected by some kind of wasting disease which prevented me from standing on it. Mother found employment in a sugar refinery a few kilometres away in town. She set out at five in the morning leaving us on our own and unsure on her return that she would find us still alive.
Less than 20 km away in Samarkand was stationed what we at that time called the real Polish Army. Even nearer there was a Polish military centre in Buzuluk which was engaged in organising Polish civilian transports to Persia. We got to know that there were priests serving the army in those centres and that they were more than willing to hear the confessions of the civilian population. Granny, for so long deprived of any practical religion such as the Church, Mass and the sacraments, took it into her head to go to confession. Somehow or other she overcame her lack of strength and managed to reach the centre to do just that. Not long after she became very ill and just as she was almost at the point of death in the nearby hospital, contrary to all our expectations as we had no-one in the army, we received papers for departure to Persia.
For mother these next days were ones full of tension and perplexity as the time for decisions grew close. I couldn’t stand on my right leg and it was 3 km to the station at Zirabulak – the place where the survivors were assembling before going on to Krasnovodsk.
Now all that remained in time was the Sunday, the day for visiting the hospital, for the Monday was scheduled as the day of departure from the collective farm. Mummy visited granny who by then lay unconscious. Mother had to take a dreadful decision – whether to remain and bury her own mother, for her hours were already numbered, or save her children. She chose the latter.
After a few days camping on the shore of the Caspian Sea we spied the longed-for ship coming into port. We went aboard. We regarded the wooden deck as a tiny piece of free land even though it was a Soviet boat.
After some hours we picked out the line of the sandy Persian shore. We stepped off in the port of Pahlevi. We were free!
On the day of our deportation to the Soviet Union, 10 February 1940, our family consisted of father Franciszek Rydz, born 1897, officer in General Haller’s army and a military settler; his wife Zofia née Burzyńska, born 1902; daughter Romaulda, born 1927; and Zofia Waleria, born 1928; plus Ksenia Burzyńska – my 70 year old maternal grandmother and Ignacy Wrobel, aged 15, a refugee from Rzeszów.
Franciszek Rydz's army identification card
Document approving Zofia Rydz's
departure to Iran (Persia)