Translation from the book
Z Kresów Wschodnich R.P. Wspomnienia z Osad Wojskowych 1921-1940
(From: The Eastern Borderlands of Poland, Memories of Military Settlements 1921-1940)
Pub: Ognisko Rodzin Osadników Kresowych (OROK)
(Association of the Families of the Borderland Settlers)
London, UK. 1992 and 1998
ISBN 1 872286 33 X
Province (Województwo) WOŁYŃ
Municipality (Gmina) Kołodno
District (Powiat) Krzemieniec
I was the wife of a military settler, Kazimierz Bieliński. Our settlement, Reymontów, was located along the Wiśniowiec-Wołyń and Zbaraż-Podole routes. My husband was born on 3 October 1903 and joined the Polish Army as a volunteer. He received the plot of land in 1923. At the beginning, he lived with his parents as a bachelor, leased the plot and shared his part of the harvest with them. In 1924, he began building his house and we got married on 25 May 1925. Soon after, my in-laws began to urge my husband to take up his plot, saying: “Kaziu, it’s time to go. Other neighbours are already managing their farmsteads and you’re still gallivanting around”. And so, we went. The family saw us off and that was how we spent our honeymoon. It was the start of our work together on our farm, which wasn’t that big at the beginning but somehow, slowly, we made a start. Our parents, who lived nearby, helped us a bit but, since they themselves weren’t rich, most of all we had to rely on ourselves. I was very young (born on 2 February 1909) but I liked the settlement and the plot very much. At first, after the working week, we would go to church to Kołodna to visit our parents and share our joys and sorrows with them.
We began work on our plot by sowing poppies and oilseed rape, and we obtained a licence for planting tobacco. There was a lot of work with this but it was also profitable. We usually sold poppy seeds earlier to have some money for the harvest. In autumn, we sowed rye and wheat. I had various vegetables in the garden as in every house and I also sowed flax and hemp.
Once we bought our first horses, it was much easier to work the land. The house had to be completed within the first year and we somehow managed to do this with the help of our family and neighbours. The house had a stone base and was built of clay rolls (clay mixed with straw), and plastered. We worked very hard but with good humour, often accompanied by singing, so we had a good time. In the second year, we built a large barn for wagons with sheaves. The land was good where we were and we had good harvests.
We both came from a very large village, Kołodno, located 7 km away from the settlement, with a parish church, two Orthodox churches, a school, a police station, and even a large former palace of the Grocholski family. Our settlement was on their land.
The village of Żarudź, which also had a school where our children began their education, was closer to the settlement. The headmaster of the school was, for some time, one of our settlers, Mr Ochlaszenny. There was also a post office and municipal offices but the official municipality was in Kołodno. Kniażyna was nearby, 2 km away. It was later transformed into the Wola Wilsona Settlement to where we often travelled to attend various meetings in their community centre.
Our settlement was in the territory of Szukajwody (Ed. note: the word literally means “search for water”). There was no water there. Those with horses would bring a barrel of water from Żarudź and sometimes, if somebody wanted to do me a courtesy, they would give me a bucket of water, as normally I would take two buckets on a carrier and go to the woods nearby to bring water from the forester’s well. This took about one and a half hours. Two buckets of water didn’t last long but, thankfully, there was some common land with a small lake next to our plot, where cattle were taken to be watered and from where we could take water for washing. And, in winter, we would melt snow.
Settlers would often hold meetings where they discussed matters such as breeding cattle, fruit trees or water. One of the settlers who had a wife from Zbaraż met a foreman who took it upon himself to cut through the rock and build a well with a pump. He managed to do this after a week and, from that time on, every settler wanted to have water in their home. At the beginning, we shared one well with two other settlers. Our plot was in the middle of the settlement so they built a well on our land but the cattle which were brought for watering did a lot of damage, so my husband decided to pay off the partners and have a well for our own use. Thereafter, the cattle and horses were watered in the barn during winter.
Wild ducks settled down in the shrubs by the lake next to us where my ducks were also constantly out on the water. Birds of a feather flock together and so mine started to make nests and lay their eggs out there and no longer wanted to come back home. We had to round them up to bring them home by getting into the water. And there were plenty of leeches and frogs. The children would play games in the shrubs and in the water and, when these leeches attached themselves, there was lots of shrieking and squealing. Of course, frogs sang their evening song during the summer and they could even be heard in the house.
People from Żarudź would pass through our meadows and that of the neighbour’s farm on their way to the woods for feed for their cattle, wild strawberries, gooseberries or mushrooms. I too would frequently go foraging for mushrooms to this beautiful government forest. We were all young and we wanted to go out to see places.
My husband was the Sołtys, (Ed. note: elected administrator reporting to the mayor) which is why he would often go away for meetings and there he’d meet up with friends in the municipality, where there would sometimes be dances and, before having children, we would go there more often for meetings, soirées, or dances. This became more difficult once we became parents. I remember one occasion when we came back home at dawn. The locals were taking their cattle to graze on the pastures and that’s when I heard them say: “Look how the lords are enjoying themselves. They’ve settled on our land and now they go gallivanting around”.
Our first child, Bronia, was born in 1927, Hala in 1930, Tadzio in 1931, and Edzio in 1933 (who died in Russia at the age of nine). Once our family got bigger, there was so much to do because one had to tend to the children as well as oversee the work in the field, although there was a herdsman and a nanny. And the settlements flourished. The orchards planted by us were already bearing fruit. In June, there were early cherries - often picked by boys from the neighbouring estates. My husband planted spruces around the garden, and early and winter apple trees and raspberries in the orchard.
My husband was very active in the Settlers' Union - he would often go away for meetings and conventions. He was employed as a civil servant for some time by the district road authority for the building of the road from Krzemieniec to Zbaraż. He also had a licence to sell alcohol. And, just like other settlers, he also benefited from welfare support and sometimes loans to improve the farm. Settlers started buying basic farming machines like seed planters, often together. There was quite a lot of work, particularly in spring or autumn when sowing grain. Even my oldest daughter was running behind the planter making sure that the openings through which the grain was sown would not get blocked. She was curious, just like the other children, of everything going on around them on the farm. The cows and horses were led out into the meadows but the children also had to tend to them after school.
I remember that we bought cheaper horses at the beginning and the mare had no energy at all. But my daughter, Bronia, enjoyed her company because - if my husband let her sit bareback - she would ride from one end of the farm to the other, and the mare would trot calmly, with her head down.
I had a knack for rearing pigs and calves. After delivering the calf, I didn’t let it suck the cow but made it accustomed to drinking warm milk “from my finger” and I soon knew what portion of milk it required. After six weeks, it was difficult to believe how much the calf had grown.
A dairy was set up in our home. The milk was supplied by the settlers and local farmers, usually before the harvest. They would take the cream to Wiśniowiec and, what remained from the strained milk, was given to the pigs, which grew magnificently.
Our children began school in Żarudź, where they would go on foot. It was worse in winter when we had harsh frosts and heavy snow. At times like these, they unfortunately had to miss school but we did, of course, take them by sleigh whenever possible.
There was no separate place on our settlement where people could gather to meet. Simply in the centre of the settlement a cross was erected, ringed by a fence. We planted flowers there and, on summer evenings, would gather for religious services and singing. Things were looking up for us, our children were growing up healthily, and we were already reaping the rewards of our hard work. Farmsteads were developing and houses or other buildings for livestock were being built. One of the settlers founded a brickyard, partly for profit and partly to build his own homestead. A considerable difference could already be seen between our way of life in the settlement and the life of the surrounding villages. In autumn, for instance, when one had to go to the village, there was knee-high mud everywhere, making it very difficult to get about. Whilst over at ours, in the settlement, it was orderly, well-cared for and dry.
There were 16 settlers in our settlement whose plots, with a few exceptions, consisted of 25 acres. Our neighbour across from us was B. Łabuński - he had 100 acres of land on which there also was a large, multi-storey building. He managed his plot in an exemplary way, developing his farmstead by employing a number of people. His sister ran his home and he himself was the Mayor for the last five years and would travel to the municipality in Kołodno every day.
Alongside were the plots of Bronisław and L. Bardecki. He came from the Równe area and soon went back there, where he managed a large estate, leasing his farm. They didn’t have any children.
Stanisław and Jadwiga Skrzybalscy lived further on; both of them came from Kalisz. They had three daughters and two sons - Janina, Helena, Stefan and Maria - these names I remember.
Next to them was the plot of Stanisław and Maria Ochlaszennów - their children were Stanisława, their daughter, and three sons. Stanisław was the headmaster of the school in Żarudź. After he passed away, his wife left for Krzemieniec with their children, leasing their land. She was in charge of the Catholic Association of Young Women at the parish church.
Stanisław and Antonina Przytomscy had two daughters: Helena and Rozalia. He came from former Galicia. At present, one daughter is in Poland, and one in the US.
Stanisław and Aniela Ratuszniak had one son, Wacław. They both came from Kołodno. Their son lives in Blackburn, England.
Stanisław and Marcelina Winiarscy had three daughters and two sons (I don't remember their names). They were both local people.
Ms Zawadzka - a nurse in the military hospital. She was committed to the service of Poland and of people. After receiving their plot, despite the objections of their brothers, she built a house and settled. She stayed there until after the end of the war, helping others. She also embroidered liturgical vestments. She had a custom of collecting ears of wheat after the harvest to later give them away as a charitable contribution.
Wincenty Olanin came with the Army from Russia and stayed, marrying a local girl. They had two daughters, Stefania and Helena.
Antoni and Aniela Kaleuchow, local people, were first given a plot near Wiśniowiec, which they later traded for Reymontów. They had two daughters - Józefa and Stanisława.
Smoliński’s plot was run by his sister who married a settler from across the road. From that time on, Stanisław and Maria Grabarczyk were highly successful in managing their estate together on two plots. They had three sons.
Their neighbour, Leon Garbe, was a professional non-commissioned officer in the 12th Podole Lancers' Regiment from Białokrynica and his in-laws, Mr and Mrs Okoń, managed his estate. His wife, Maria, died after giving birth to their daughter, who was later taken care of by her sister, Jadwiga, the future second Mrs Garbe. I mention this because this was the only case of death on the settlement.
Roch Wilczyński married the local Miss Aniela, our cousin and he wonderfully improved and extended his farm. They had a daughter, Maria (currently in the US) and a son, Bronisław, presently in New Zealand.
Stefan and Anna Koźlakow had two daughters and two sons. After selling their plots, they left for Sub-Carpathia.
And, well, us, Kazimierz and Anna Bieliński. We had four children, three of whom are with me in England. Here, on 26 May 1977, my husband passed away.
Most of the settlers were transported to Russia on 10 February 1940 and our entire group was located in one “posiołek” (work camp) in Komi (ed. note: Russian Republic in central Russia). After the amnesty, we all travelled together to the south of Russia, to the army that was being formed (ed. note: the Polish army commanded by General Anders), hoping to find better conditions and the chance to get out of this hell. Our ways parted on the journey through Iran, Iraq, Italy, Africa, and India. Only Wacław Ratuszniak lives in my town. Aniela Wilczyńska once lived here but she left to live with her son in New Zealand, where she passed away. Now, I am the only one left from the original settlers in our settlement.
Our oldest daughter was already attending the Krzemieniecki Secondary School. She lived in private accommodation at the home of friends. We would often bring them various things from our farm but, for Christmas and Easter or the holidays, my husband brought our daughter home. And this is what our life was like until 1939. One day, after coming back from a meeting, my husband started to talk about an approaching war. I couldn’t imagine what the war meant. I felt fear set in because something was posing a threat to us; we had just managed to stand on our own two feet and now we might lose it all.
When the war broke out, particularly with the invasion by the Soviet army, everything changed for us. On Sunday 17 September, I was alone at home with the children. My husband had been ordered to complete the road near Żarudź, which was used by refugees fleeing to Romania. He was overseeing a large group of labourers on his own from the early hours of the morning. He had already somehow received the news of the advance of the Soviets and had sent a boy with the message to us not to be afraid because they were coming to our aid. But already there was a group of soldiers in the yard, concerned by our large radio antenna in the garden. Our world had collapsed in the space of a few hours. My husband had to go into hiding; total strangers passed through our plot on horseback, taking whatever they fancied. Our Mayor came in the night to bid farewell before leaving his home. One could still hear the sound of tanks driving past, accompanied by the red glow of fires in various parts of the municipality.
From that time on, we started to get visits from young men from the neighbouring village, sons of those people who treated us well before the war, demanding that we hand over our livestock, grain and cattle. The settlers were continuously called to various registration procedures in the former municipality office. My husband concluded from these censuses that we would not be staying in the settlement for long and wondered whether a journey to Siberia did not await us. Just in case, my friend from the settlement and I took one cow each in the night to my mother’s place who lived in Kołodno and on one occasion my husband took some grain there and hid it. For a while, everything went back to normal and we were left in peace. My husband travelled to Krzemieniec and told us upon his return that, although the town was almost completely stripped of everything, the schools there were still open and Bronia must attend in Krzemieniec. I tried to explain as best as I could that he shouldn’t do this, but my husband thought that it doesn’t matter who was in charge; school is a priority.
Anyway, he brought her back home for Christmas, which was quiet and modest that year despite family visits, after which he decided to take her back to school again. The younger children were still attending the local school.
We carefully prepared a considerable amount of food, including bread, because January was very cold and snow-laden and no one knew when it would be possible to go to Krzemieniec again. The only thing was that Bronia didn’t want to go; she would run and hide just to stay at home. In the end, she had to give in and went. We did not meet her again until June of 1942 in Uzbekistan.
In February, my husband decided to travel to Krzemieniec. On 9 February, we prepared everything he intended to take with him. That night, he couldn’t sleep. We put this down to his trip to Krzemieniec, which was not at all easy at that time and in those conditions because of the various marauding bands in the nearby forests. As for me, whenever I dozed off, I dreamt of people escaping through windows. In the morning, somebody started knocking loudly on the door. It was the morning of 10 February 1940. (ed. note: On this day, the first deportations of the Kresy population to Siberia took place). In this terrible commotion, I completely lost my head; however, my husband managed to take many things that later proved useful. And so, loaded up on a sledge with three children, we left forever our beloved plot of land and our settlement.
We were taken with all the other deportees, along with my husband’s sister, to the Kornaczówka station where my mother came to see us. We left instructions for her to take care of our oldest daughter as best as she saw fit. She couldn’t get to Krzemieniec for several weeks because there was nobody willing to take her, even for money. On the day that she finally reached her granddaughter to take her home, she had no idea that, a few hours later, in the middle of the night, NKVD agents would take her grandchild claiming to be taking her to her parents, and no amount of tears or begging would change their mind.
All that has remained of our settlement are our memories which often revisit us. Some of them are even amusing although they didn’t seem so at the time.
When we first came to live in the settlement, my husband was very pleased when his young wife baked or cooked something tasty. We decided to bake some bread. There were no shops in the vicinity; anyway, buying bread was a sign of a poor housewife. It was already after the harvest. My husband had prepared some fresh grain, went to the mill and came back with some beautiful flour. I was given a kneading trough by my mother and, since I had often helped my grandma or mother, I knew, more or less, how to go about preparing the dough.
My husband took care of the oven and, when everything was ready, we started to place the bread inside. After a while, I took a look inside the oven and, to my great joy, I saw 12 beautifully brown loaves of bread sitting there. Seeing that we had about two hours, we decided to go outside into the field where there was always work to be done. Engrossed in our work, we completely forgot about the bread. When we got home, there was nothing left to be taken out of the oven. The bread had sunk, dried up, and the crust had come off the bread. My husband was disappointed and I felt terrible. But this never happened again. I soon learnt to bake delicious bread, wonderful cakes and prepare delicious meals. I had the enthusiasm and a bit of luck and everything usually turned out perfect.
The children had somewhere to play and they were constantly kept busy. One had to regularly make sure that they didn’t stray too far away from home or for them not to touch the farming machines because various accidents did happen. Most often, my oldest daughter would “go missing”. She would disappear somewhere, and then we had to look for her which wasn’t at all easy among tall stalks of wheat, ready for harvesting. We would often find her sleeping on a path or by the road.
There was one year that we were sure would bear an abundant harvest. The wheat grew tall enough for cutting but, whilst in flower, a frost came and there was nothing to harvest - we had to get through it somehow. I think it was 1928.
Once the wheat was brought to the barn or the yard, we would rent a threshing machine. At first, they were manual, then drawn by horses and, finally powered by steam. The wheat was stored in the attic or in baskets in cubbyholes. We sold grain in winter. One would usually wait for a good price but, sometimes, prices were so low that we gave the fruit of our labour away for next to nothing. We hired reapers and labourers during the harvest. My husband would usually go to the village and bring back two wagons full of young, smiling people who, apart from their pay, were also fed. Once work was finished, when all the wheat had been brought back [to the barns], the “Dożynki” harvest festival would begin: people would bring wreaths - naturally, accompanied by singing - for which payment was made to the best girl harvester called "Przodownica”; alcohol and food were plentiful and the young arranged for some musicians and the party would last late into the night.
Everyone always waited for Christmas: children for the Christmas tree; adults for a rest and for get-togethers with family and friends. My husband always made sure that there was a beautiful tree. He would even sometimes chop down his own from the garden; I prepared traditional dishes, including “kutia” (Ed. note: a sweet dessert) with wheat or rice. We had a large family and everyone liked to visit us. Christmas Eve supper (Ed. note: known as “wigilia”) was very festive, followed by carols, midnight Mass, meeting with friends. Then, returning home - often with adventures - in good spirits and with shrieks of laughter, they would race the horses causing the sleighs to swing from side to side, often tossing the company into the snow. Then, the carol singers would come round, with a nativity scene or a play, as a way of earning some money.
For Easter, the settlers usually went to the parish church in Kołodno for Easter Vigil Mass. Housewives, preparing Easter meals, would exchange recipes so as to have something new and tasty for the Easter table. Wedding parties were also a pleasant celebration. Some of them even lasted up to three days whilst the helpers would tend to the farmhouse and cattle.
When it came to bigger shopping or selling things, one would go to the fairs in Wiśniowiec, Zbaraż or Czarny Las, usually on Mondays. The merchants were mostly Jews and they were the ones to set the prices. Towards the end, cooperatives even started operating but, often, they would not be able to withstand the competition.
We weren’t at the settlement for long; we worked hard but we were young and, although it may have been difficult and bad sometimes, we had a lot of joy and satisfaction. It really was beautiful there and I can still see this life very clearly and vividly as though somebody had put it before me on a plate.