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) POLESIE
HALINA GLUBA (SZULIŃSKA)
District (Powiat) Drohiczyn
My father, Franciszek Szuliński, was born in Kutno in 1896 and, as a youth, joined the Legion of Józef Piłsudski in the Signal Corps. He took an active part in both the battles of the 1st World War and those of the Polish-Bolshevik War of 1920. In gratitude for his service and merits, he was awarded a 30-hectare parcel of land in osada Karłowicze. Twenty-one military settlers from the same regiment were there, plus two civilian settlers: Franciszek Szuliński, Szymański, Boncler, Bańcarz, Sztela, Kamiński, Kordas, Kraszewski, Kazała, Jankowski, Staszkiewicz, Czernek, Karczewski, Sosnowski, Wojtaszewski, Jaskólski, Kucharski, Zduńczyk, Szkil, Dobrowolska – and the civilians: Sztela and Wiśniewski.
The initial period proved very difficult. The land had been very neglected. Their horses were from the regiment. They were also provided with a certain amount of cereal and a small grant for the purchase of agricultural machinery. They lived in Mrs Dobrowolska’s house which served as a communal centre (all that remained of the original Karłowicze estate).
Over a two-year period, father built a small house, dug a well, set up an apiary and planted a number of fruit trees. Then, in 1923, he went to Płock, where he proposed to, and married mother. They arrived back in the Borderland with her dowry which put them on their feet. A year later, their son, Jurek, was born to be followed in turn by – Halinka, Bogdan and Janusz. The majority of settlers married, started families and, out of the good husbandry of their land, could afford to build a two-storey school. They also started an Agricultural Circle, a Housewives Circle, a Health Clinic, a Stefczyk Bank Society and a dairy.
Daddy bred horses for the army, Dutch cattle and pigs for export to England and Germany. He also established a fruit orchard and a fish lake. He sent his surplus potatoes to the Zakoziel estate where there was a distillery and a steam-operated corn mill. Zakoziel had once been the property of the Orzeszko family on which there was a very old small church (now in ruins) which was used by the local settlers and where I was christened. In the evenings at the school in Karłowicze, agricultural courses and lectures took place for the men, and courses in pattern-cutting, sewing, cake-making, preserves, hygiene and such like for the women. We also had organised scouting for boys and guiding for girls while, in the forest, which neighboured Karłowicze we set up scout camps to which the youth of the entire district came. There were tents, bedding made from leaves and conifer needles, evening bonfires and the singing of camp and legionnaire songs, while all around us were the fragrances of resinous pines and mighty oaks ….
During the season for the harvesting of potatoes, beets and carrots, father hired workers from the nearby village and did the same for the cutting, tending and stacking of hay.
Father was elected a member of the Polish Diet. He travelled to parliamentary proceedings for debates, military settlers’ reunions and was particularly active working for better schools for settlers’ children for grants and other matters.
Autumn rolled on and our potatoes lay uncollected in the fields; mummy worried and wept, but father calmed her with ‘Jasia, no matter how you look at it, none of this is ours for much longer’. Some of our settler neighbours cross the Bug to Warsaw and encouraged father to do likewise. He answered that he wouldn’t leave his wife and children on their own. Some of those were fortunate in getting across but some were killed.
The winter was very severe. The local peasants attacked settlers, indulged in torture and even murder. During an absence of my parents (they’d gone shopping in Brześć), eight soldiers and Byelorussians entered the house at night, locked us children in a bedroom with just a loaf of bread and a bucket of water and waited for my parents to return. That was 9 February 1940 and, as my parents were slow to return, they told us to pack our things. Luckily my parents did return and father was ordered to harness horses to sledges then, having packed, all of us were taken to Drohiczyn railway station. Here in goods wagons were all the people from Karłowicze as well as the families of forest rangers, game-keepers and other government workers.
The 10 February was the last day we spent in our homeland. We passed through Kobryń, Pińsk and over the Soviet border on a journey lasting three weeks, which took us into the unknown. During this, we’d occasionally receive a bucket of either noodle or cabbage soup. Finally, we arrived at a station called Yemtsy. Our possessions were loaded onto sledges which awaited us and we walked alongside them for 1.5kms through the snow in a stinging frost to barracks in the forest. These were divided into rooms, held not proper beds but bunks, had a stove in the dividing partitions and bed bugs crowding the cracks in the walls.
This was posiolek Nukhto-Ozero, Plesetsk region, Archangel Province. There then occurred the allocation of work. Father worked as a woodcutter in the forest, with the help of a horse; 15-year old Jerzy hauled logs as a driver; and mummy worked in the saw mill. Children aged 7-15 had to attend school. The shop with bread opened after people returned from work and so I queued there for bread and in the canteen for soup. This was little better than water, in which noodles made from dry rye flour had been boiled with sometimes a bit of millet cereal or a small scrap of salted herrings floating in it. The bread ration was
200gms for workers and 100 for children. Very often, there wasn’t enough soup for everybody, so I would return to the room numb with cold and with nothing other than my tears lining the bottom of the pot.
A terrible hunger ensued and people died. On one occasion, as he harnessed his horse to a sledge, my brother was kicked in the face. He lost a few teeth and, carried back to the barracks, ran a high temperature. In the meantime, father had become very friendly with a mechanic, a German by descent, who worked in the saw mill. He accepted Jurek as his assistant and brother, Bogdan, worked as a deliverer of portions of bread and soup to the forest workers. Mother grew weak because of the lack of food and deficiency of vitamins coupled with the very arduous work demanded of her. For a few days, she lay ill in the barracks, but the posiolek head decided she was absenting herself from work without good reason and ordered her a week custody on bare rations in the detention cell. Daddy then wrapped part of his bread ration in a handkerchief and our youngest brother, Janusz, passed it to mummy on a stick through the narrow window below the roof line. Later, mummy suffered from night blindness. Luckily, the posiolek’s doctor was a Polish lady, Dr Czekańska, who prescribed mummy one teaspoonful of cod liver oil daily – which immediately helped her condition – and gave her sick leave from work.
When summer came, we went out with mother gathering raspberries (and for cranberries and mushrooms in the autumn) and these saved us from dying of hunger. We also planted some potatoes on an agreed strip of land. They grew and helped us survive for some time. On one of our outings for mushrooms, we came across a human skeleton and on another occasion we came across bear tracks.
In August 1941, my father was informed that we were free, and were issued with the appropriate documents. Father learned that Germany had attacked the Soviet Union and that a Polish army was being formed. He decided that, since some of the others were in no hurry to leave, we would depart on our own. Our parents sold everything still in an acceptable condition and, in September, we travelled from Yemtsy station bound for Sverdlovsk. In the overcrowded train, father was robbed of the money which he had hidden in his coat, and only the small sum mother had with her remained. Then, on one of the stations, he went off to buy something to eat, the train moved off and left him behind. In the same way, we lost Jurek and then mummy. I remained on the train with my younger brothers, all of us crying from hunger and fear. We left the train in Svberdlovsk – as we had agreed with my parents from the outset – one by one we came together again, Jurek with a sack full of bread.
From Sverdlovsk, we travelled by train through Tashkent and Samarkand up to the Aral Sea and then by barge on the Amu-Darya to the old Uzbek town of Turkul. From there, we were taken by arbas to a collective farm, where all of us worked except Janusz. Father and Jurek harvested dzhugara, whilst mother and I sorted vegetables. Dzhugara is very much like corn on the cob, except that the seeds are smaller and white. The Uzbeks milled it into a cereal and flour, from which they made flat bread and bread rolls. We were paid for our work partly in money and partly in kind. Everything seemed to be going all right, with the work not too demanding, until the elderly supervisor called mother to one side and whispered something to her. Mummy screwed up her face as though offended at which he murmured something else which caused her to blush and swear at him (something foreign to her nature), then both she and I returned to the clay hut. It seemed that he had proposed buying me to become his first wife and for this he’d give mummy a ram, to which he’d added the offer of a sack of potatoes, when she became outraged.
Suddenly daddy fell ill with typhoid and was taken to hospital. Almost immediately following this came an instruction that all Poles had to leave because the Polish Army was being organised. We were allowed to take daddy from the hospital and by arba we retraced our path to Turkul then, again by barge, we sailed along the Amu-Darya and finally travelled by train to Bukhara and Shakhryziabs. Jurek added two years to his age and joined the army. I added some to mine and was sent to Guzar and Bogdan was accepted into the junior cadets. Once again, father was very poorly and re-admitted to a hospital and mama, with my youngest brother, was placed on the list of the military families registered for departure abroad. In Guzar, we were given British uniforms, Russian high boots, two blankets and a place in a tent where 12 of us slept side by side. We all had lice so, every day after lunch, we spent an hour debugging ourselves.
Simultaneously we struggled through plagues of typhoid, straight dysentery and bloody dysentery. Many died and it wasn’t for nothing that this place earned the title ‘The Valley of Death’. Then out of the blue, came the order ‘Departure abroad’. We went by foot to the railway station, took the train to Krasnovodsk and ship across the Caspian Sea to Pahlevi. In the transit camp, we underwent thorough cleansing and disinfection at which stage, because of lice, some of the girls had their hair shorn off. We were provided with new uniforms and underclothes and all that we’d previously worn was burned. After a few days a huge troop convoy was formed and we girl soldiers travelled in open lorries along the serpentine roads of the Elburs mountains to Tehran. The Persians inundated us with oranges, nuts and pomegranates. After the experience of Russia we felt as though we were in heaven and it was extremely difficult to believe we’d run into such luck – needless to say, with our every prayer, we thanked the Almighty.
When mother and Janusz arrived in Tehran, she was very sick with spotted fever. Upon recovery, she was sent with Janusz to Tanganyika in Africa. Father arrived in Persia in August on the very last transport. I found him but he was a very sick man wasted by disease. He too was soon sent on to Africa. As for me, after a short period of time serving on the guard platoon of the hospital school and in the women’s military police, I applied to move to the school for younger volunteers in Palestine. I was accepted and left for the school, which at that time was located in Rehovoh. Following an examination, I restarted my education in the 2nd form of grammar school. Besides our normal studies, we organised theatrical performances and produced the opera 'Halka'. We also toured the Holy Land, visited churches and bathed in the Mediterranean, the Dead Sea and the Sea of Galilee by Tiberias.
The cadets were in Barbara so I went there and met my brother Bogdan. Our school was moved to Quastina, then Jenin and finally to Nazareth.
In April 1944, I was posted to England to join the Air Force. By that time, I had learned that my parents had met in Tengeru in Tanganyika, where mother worked in the camp tailor’s shop. Janusz attended school and father had started up a tanning project, in which he employed a few Africans and one Pole. I also learned that Bogdan had been accepted as a volunteer in the army and had left for Italy.
After yet another attack of malaria and a complete recovery, I spent Easter in North Berwick. There, they trained, paraded us and drilled us, but we also went to English dances. Finally, we were enrolled into the WAAF and sent to Wilmslow for yet another course for recruits in preparation for entry into the Royal Air Force. After completing the cockpit instrumentation course in Locking, I left for the training station at Newton, Nottinghamshire, and then for the air base in Chedburgh, where I met a pilot from 301 Wing, Alek Gluba, and married him on 14.2.1947.
My parents arrived in Melton Mowbray in 1948. Alek arranged further studies for Janusz in London. We were both demobbed from the RAF and he was enrolled into the Royal Pakistan Air Force with the rank of captain. We went to live there and our first son, Andrzej Bogusław Marek, was born in Karachi in 1949.
My brother, Jerzy, was posted as missing and we had no further news of him.
Maria Juralewicz has written about the deportation of her family from Karłowicze.
Janina and Franciszek Szuliński with Janusz
in Tengeru, Africa.
Halina Szulińska-Gluba on RAF Station, East Wretham, Suffolk
First Holy Communion of Halina Szulińska in Warsaw
Christmas in England.
Bogdan is behind the tree, father and mother, Janusz and his wife, Basia, Halina and Alek with their children: Zosia, Iwonka and Andrzej with below Auntie Zofia.
During long winter evenings, mummy read us the works of Sienkiewicz, Mickiewicz, Reymont, Żeromski and Orzeszkowa. The children took part in school performances and the adults produced serious plays. The older children attended either grammar or technical schools. During the very hot summer with its harvest, people started talking about a possible imminent war with Germany. Father received call-up papers to join the Auxiliary Police Service in Antopol. On the 1 September 1939, war broke out. Soon after father, completely disillusioned, was discharged and returned home. On the 17 September, the Soviets attacked. It was terrible – long columns of troops straggled by – a pitiful sight smelling of birch tar [it was used to water-proof their poor quality footwear]. Father’s three-year old mare was requisitioned and we cried as she was led away. Two months later she ran back by herself into the farmyard. It appeared she had unseated the officer riding her and trotted back home. Unfortunately, she was taken away a second time.
Alfons Gluba, pilot 301 Wing, Knight of Virtuti Military.