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 (out of print)
ISBN 1 872286 33 X
Province (Województwo) WOŁYŃ
OSADA SZWOLEZEROWKA (originally called Osada Uściług)
Community (Gmina) Beresteczko
District (Powiat) Uściług on River Bug
We arrived at our military settlement in a tightly packed car. One had to cross a long, wooden bridge over the River Bug, which was a beautiful and deep river without any shallows. There was a large wooden sign at the end of the bridge with the words: “WOŁYN PROVINCE – TOWN OF UŚCIŁUG”. This name came from the River Ługa, which flowed into the Bug at this point. The roads forked just after the bridge: one cobblestone road led to the town of Uściług, the other – a bumpy and muddy road that was a typical Wołyn track almost impassable during the autumn rains – led to our settlement.
This whole settlement area carried the name ‘Szwoleżerówka’ because most of the settlers came from the 1st Light Cavalry Regiment. The underlying aim of the settlements was populating this fertile, largely empty and uncultivated terrain with Poles.
Thus, my husband, Zbigniew Brochwicz-Lewiński, had a small farmstead of a mere 40 acres. His main occupation was military service: first, as a Lieutenant Colonel, Commander of the 19th Wołyn Lancer Regiment in Ostrog on the Horyn River, then, already as a Certified Colonel, [Ed. note: Certified = Graduate from military school] he held a senior General’s position as Head of the Cavalry Department at the Ministry of Military Affairs and, at the end, he was appointed Officer for Special Duties for the Marshall [Ed. note: Piłsudski], and his office was in the General Inspectorate of the Armed Forces.
I don’t remember exactly when we first arrived on our plot in Uściług. I think it was 1925. At that time, one would not travel from Warsaw by car but by train and then on horseback from Ostrog because my husband was the Regiment Commander in those days. These were the very beginnings and we had only just started to build on the land of our settlement. Therefore, we stayed temporarily with our close neighbours and friends, the Olszewski family. Mirek Olszewski was a farmer by profession and his charming wife Ewa, known to her close friends as ‘Jagusia’, had completed a horticultural school. They were one of the original settlers there and, as such, they managed a large plot and lived there permanently. Since they were exceptionally hospitable and eager to help everyone, people flocked to them and their house was always full of guests.
In May 1926, my husband – who before joining the Legions had achieved a degree in architecture – designed himself a residential house for our settlement. To begin with, we had built only a small, wooden two-room cabin, where one room was the bedroom and the other a dining room and kitchen (with a large wood and charcoal stove, where the top part was a bread oven). Directly behind the wall were the cowshed and stables – when lying in bed, I could see the cows through the gaps in the walls... In time, we built our proper residential home, that cabin of ours became a dwelling for our regular labourers who did all the necessary farm work.
During those days in May 1926, I was soon to give birth to our first child but we wanted to travel to Uściług first to definitively determine the spot where our house was to be built. We therefore carefully walked the entire plot and jointly agreed that the best place would be the wide space at the top of a small hill rising above the meadow running alongside the small Studzianka River that, of course, also belonged to us. Therefore, to seal the decision and to make this ‘act of taking possession’ more ceremonious, we sat down on the edge of the small hill, kissed, and then Zbigniew ran down to the river, drew some water into his cap and brought it to me. We both drank some water and, elated, we kissed once again. On this spot, ‘consecrated’ in this way, our beloved and beautiful home soon stood in the settlement in Uściług.
It was because of our farmstead that I completed special horticulture courses in Warsaw. Hence, I enthusiastically grafted noble varieties of tree and rose bush, established a fruit tree nursery, as well as an asparagus and hops plot. The help of an expert who was hired especially for the job was needed to establish the last, most complex and specialist plot.
The hops field was to the rear of the cowshed, directly behind the horse-powered thresher. It ran along the right side of a field path separated from a buckwheat field. Further on, behind the buckwheat field, there was a field with sugar beet (we always had our own sugar, sacks of which were taken to Warsaw each year), and then there were stretches of fields of grain: wheat, rye, oats, and barley, and among them was the apple of my husband’s eye – an experimental plantation of Egyptian wheat that was meant to give a particularly abundant harvest.
There was a boundary strip along the edge of these fields separating our land from the land of our closest neighbours, Jan and Irena Karczów. Their plot was smaller because they only came once in a while and not every year. Their land was cultivated by leaseholders. Directly behind their land was the extensive farm settlement of our friends, the Olszewski family. Therefore, my daughter Mala had some close friends: the children of the Olszewski family – Basia and Tadzio, as well as Jurek and Jaś of the Karczów family. Overall, around twenty different-sized plots, including those belonging to the Morawski family, the Brodowski family, the Szostak family and others, comprised the territory of the Szwoleżerówka. The small Studzianka river ran along the back of our plot, constituting a natural boundary between the Szwoleżerówka and the land of the local population of the village Rusów.
Over the years, additional farm buildings were built on the large yard of our farmstead, which was managed by the kind-hearted and honest Piotr Homa with his wife and children. My husband could only visit to give relevant instructions. Every year my daughter Mala and I, however – later also joined by baby Andrzej – would spend the whole summer and even the beginning of autumn there.
I have thus briefly described our settlements in Szwoleżerówka, without stopping to describe the small town of Uściług, to which they were closely located. A long cobblestone road ran to this town from the bridge on the Bug river.
Unfortunately, I can’t recall any statistical information about the area of this small town and its population density. But I do remember well that there was a Catholic church there, a Jewish synagogue, and an Eastern Orthodox church. Common to small towns, there was also a Mayor, a physician, a veterinarian, a school, and a pharmacy. The latter was known as ‘Mrs Perelman’s Pharmacy’ as it was run by Mrs Perelman. She was a Jew, as almost all the trade was in Jewish hands. The only non-Jewish shops in Uściług that I can recall were the ‘Społem’ cooperative and the non-kosher butcher. I have a personal memory of Mrs Perelman. When I attended as an invited guest the wedding of my seamstress, Miss Szyfr from Uściług (Jewish, of course), the pleasant and cultured Mrs Perelman sitting alongside me at the wedding table explained the meaning of the respective traditional ceremonies and customs to me.
The ‘Food and Various Goods Store’ of Mr Icek Opatowski was undoubtedly the most important shop in Uściług. This shop was crammed with goods – truly a wide variety indeed! The most varied kinds of confectionery, herrings from a barrel, pickled cucumbers, lemons, soap, paraffin for lamps, tea, coffee, stationery… and God knows what else could be purchased there. And even if they didn’t have a certain item, Icek would say: ‘I don’t have it. It’ll be here tomorrow”… And, indeed, it was! The owner himself was a small, young, smoothly combed blond with delicate features, always meticulously dressed in a white shirt with a bow tie and a sparkling clean, white kittel [Ed. note: White robe that Jewish men and women wear on High Holidays and other occasions]. A gold tooth sparkled as he smiled. His beautiful wife Leja would help him out at the store and in the depths of the shop sat Icek’s younger brother over some book.
We would usually go by horse-drawn carriage, a so-called ‘cabriolet’ [Ed. note: a two-wheeled, one-horse carriage having a single bench seat and a folding top], to church on Sundays. My daughter Mala would sit proudly on the cantle next to the postillion who would sometimes even allow her to hold the reins on easier sections of the road. After Mass, we would usually get ourselves some delicious, crispy ‘bagel’ pretzels from the Jewish bakery located right next to the Church and we would drop by for some delicious ice cream. The town presented itself very colourfully on Sundays and public holidays and colourful scarves and embroidered blouses could be seen, with the hustle and bustle - Polish, Jewish, and Ukrainian.
It was also noisy at home. Many guests would come and go throughout the summer. I loved our farmstead so much that this was the only place I would go to stay with my child for the whole of summer. I didn't even wish to accompany my husband on his various foreign business trips for various equestrian competitions or Cavalry conventions. Instead, I loved it when someone visited and we often had guests at Malwina. My parents regularly visited Malwina and usually occupied the beautiful upstairs room with a balcony. My sister and her children, my husband’s family, and many other relatives passed through our manor house.
I would like to describe one very specific and characteristic visit of those times and those relationships.
Our relatives, the Grekowicz family, came to visit us from the estate in Hruszwica, located some 40 km away from us. Stach Grekowicz etched himself in our family’s memory by the fact that he carried my wounded husband from the battlefield in the Polish-Bolshevik War. So, the Grekowicz family travelled on two horse-drawn rack wagons: Stach, his wife, and his four children and, apart from them, their maid, two drivers and, of course, two pairs of horses. How was I to cope with such a large number of guests at one time? Particularly that this was still early on, at a time when our farmstead was still being developed. Our guests, however, were familiar with the state of the small settlement and were foresighted enough to bring their own pillows and duvets, etc. What’s more, they brought lots of supplies with them: butter, cheeses, home-made cured meats, a cake, home-baked bread, confits and... sacks of oats for the horses. This was quite an expedition, the journey lasted several hours, and was quite tiring as they were not by any means travelling on a smooth road but on country roads, as described earlier, on bumpy Wołyn tracks. In those days, that was how one traveled in Wołyn.
And, generally speaking, there were primitive conditions everywhere. There was no question of any running water or sewage system – water had to be carried in pails from the well. Nature’s call had to be satisfied by local people in a traditional way ‘behind the barn” or in the stables and cowshed alongside the cattle. In these conditions a big step towards civilisation was the famous ‘sławojka’; wooden huts near the house with a wooden toilet seat from under which the waste had to be regularly emptied.
Alongside propagation of hygiene, one of my automatic functions as a settler woman was providing first aid. I always had a well-stocked first aid kit at home and everyone knew that they could turn to me in case of an emergency, wounds, fever, and stomach ache, etc. I did what I could on my own: disinfecting and bandaging wounded hands and legs, giving out aspirins for colds, painkillers for headaches or toothaches, drops for an upset stomach, and I sometimes even had to reset dislocated and fractured joints…
The primitive conditions also included lighting which was by no means electric. It consisted of decent candles and paraffin lamps. Seen from the outside, in the dark of the village night, the windows of the homesteads lit up in this way glowed with a characteristic, gentle, yellow and somewhat wobbly brightness... This manner of lighting, carrying with it the serious risk of easily starting a fire, required constant attention and habitual caution. When leaving a room, one had to blow the candles out or take them wherever one was going, while the fickle, eagerly ‘smoking’ paraffin lamps had to be cleaned regularly and the wicks had to be adjusted, etc. However, my husband – forever the optimist – was planning to introduce electricity from his own power source. In the meantime, we were content with the ‘luxury’ of a large paraffin lantern hanging on the porch to light up the front door.
One could write endlessly about the village animals, and there were many of them, like dogs, cats, and ducks; about the various hedgehogs and squirrels saved from their deaths and reared at home only then to be released into the woods, strong and healthy; about the many nestlings that fell from their nests, brought in by Mala and similarly reared, and, of course, about the ordinary farm cows (there were five of them) that would graze on the meadow at the foot of the small hill where our house stood.
Piotr’s younger children (for an individual small fee), often accompanied by Mala, would take the opportunity to learn how to carve whistles and make small balls from cow hair. Overall, Mala spent a lot of time in the company of Piotr’s children, playing with them. Her best friends were the slightly older Janka and the large, tanned and honest, eldest son of Piotr’s family, Edek. He was an exceptionally intelligent, eager to learn, and well-mannered boy who was passionate about reading books, which I was happy to give to him. It was through him that Mala became familiar with the story of Tarzan of the Apes, which so fascinated her that years later, while climbing trees, she would play out scenarios from this story.
Coming back to the animals – asides from cows, the most important, naturally, were horses. We usually had three. They served on trips by horse and carriage and for ploughing, reaping, hay and crop harvesting, for turning the horse mill, and for other farm work. It was on ‘Kasztanka’ [Chestnut] that Mala started to learn horse riding, which unfortunately came to an abrupt end as, following an accident while learning to ski, she damaged her tailbone and for a long time the doctor forbade her from doing any sports that risk falling. Of course, there was also no shortage of piglets and all kinds of poultry on our farm; therefore, we also had meat, poultry and cured meats on our table apart from our own dairy products, fruit and vegetables. And, outdoors in the yard, there was a lot of clucking, quacking, turkey gobbling, and the charming view of fluffy yellow baby chicks chirping and walking around the protective wings of the hen.
Yes, it was indeed idyllic. In the evenings, from across the river, one could hear the nostalgic songs of the Rusiny girls from the Ukrainian village of Rusów nearby, the barking of dogs, the songs of the nightingales, the chirping of the crickets, and a scent of roses and evening stock hung in the warm air. Life was beautiful, peaceful, and had a sense of stability to it…
That is how it was in the summer of 1939.
The summer holidays were beautiful that year. The weather was gorgeous and sunny throughout, conducive to a good harvest and to swimming in the river, walks and strolls, and playing and working in the field and in the garden. Hence, the numerous guests that came to stay with us for the summer holidays – cousins Luśka and Jędrek of the Wyczółkowski family with their dog ‘Dżek’ (the same breed as our dog), my husband’s sister Zosia, my sister’s daughters, Marysia – Stach and Marychna, my daughter’s beloved friend... Everyone was sad to be leaving.
We were also sorry to see them go, but time was pressing to go back to school: Mala, already a proud secondary school pupil, had just moved on to year two in the private secondary school of Popielewska and Roszkowska on 15, Bagatela Street, and one had to return to Warsaw to get there for the start of the school year.
Everything had already been packed into the car, the radio antenna mounted on a high mast had already been dismantled for the winter a few days ago (so that there was no more reception) and, early in the morning on 1 September, we headed out towards Warsaw.
It was only on the way there, probably somewhere in the small town of Ryki, at a petrol station, that the news of the outbreak of the war came upon us. Literally like a bolt from the blue! Because it was during our drive down under a clear, cloudless and blue sky (who at that time could forget the pitilessly blue sky throughout the whole of that cruel September?) that we were shaken up and disconcerted by the strange and incomprehensible rumbling, as though of distant thunder.
Already these were the sounds of the first air raids and bombings by Nazi Germany.
“Go back to Uściług immediately! You’ll be safe beyond the Bug River” was the categorical command of my husband when he met us on the way to bombarded Warsaw. He himself had to return to the Commander-in-Chief, alongside whom – along with the rest of the General Staff – he spent the rest of the terrible weeks of that tragic September.
However, alone with the children in an empty house (because even the close Olszewski family were not there as they had recently moved to Nowogródek where Mirek was appointed Starosta [Ed. note: District Administrator]), I felt I was in a real quandary, alone and isolated. So, I decided to go to Włodzimierz Wołyński located 14 km away, to our dear old friends, the Zawistowski family.
Thus, with a heavy heart, I had to bid farewell to our beloved farmstead for the second time in such a short period.
I sat down on the bench in the garden with Mala and one and a half year old Andrzej. Behind us, there were the watermelon and famous melon beds, and there was quite a large bush of European cranberry right next to the bench. From the front, towards the house, there were rows of flowers, flower beds and plots full of flowers and ornamental trees and shrubs. A little further down and to the left, towards the road, among the extensive raspberry and strawberry plots, were the fruit trees: delicious cherries, pears, apples, plums, and sour cherries... All the finest varieties and species, often specially cultivated from seedlings and seeds imported from England. Everything – every single bush, shrub and tree without exception, not to mention the flowers – was planted by us here, transforming this bare wilderness into a garden of paradise.
And we could smell all the heavenly scents of flowers, ripe fruit, grasses, and cereals coming from this garden... The idyllic music of insects and birds resounded... A dog could be heard here and there from across the wattle fences, and here and there was the lowing of a cow or neighing of a horse.
Just like in the old days, the most beautiful choirs of the Rusiny girls resounded from across the small river. The sun caressed our skin with its gentle warmth and everything seemed to be imbued with good weather, gentleness and peace.
“Mum, is it really possible?”, asked little Mala, clinging to me. “Yes, it’s beautiful, yes, it’s peaceful...” [I said]. “Is there really a war going on?”
That was our last farewell to the farmstead.
We never returned there again.
A few days later, on 17th September, Soviet Russia invaded Poland and the deceptive ‘security' behind the line of the Bug river turned out to be a mortal threat. Together with the rest of the people who, very much like us, were in despair, trying to save themselves from annihilation, we crossed the border bridge in the small village of Kuty in the Beskid Mountain area and we stood on the threshold of a completely different, new era.
An era in which the settler plots in Wołyń are now merely an exotic memory fading more and more away into the mist....
5 March 1992, our unforgotten, and loving Mother, Grandmother, Aunt and Great-grandmother passed away in Stepping Hill Hospital, Manchester at the age of 91 in full command of her faculties surrounded by love and giving love.