Kresy Family



from Polskie Drogi 1940-2000 (Polish Trails) Siberia, Iran, India and Africa to Manchester 

by Bogdan Trybuchowski

In the middle of the night, secretly before his parents find out, Jan Trybuchowski and his friends leave home to join the army. Jan had taken part in the Bolshevik revolution and then spent time in Moscow upgrading his officer training. Back home in Poland, Jan and his younger 18-year old brother Zygmunt and relatives, Jozef Rytwinski and Boleslaw Trojanowski decide to join the Polish army that was being formed in 1918. Specifically, they are interested in the 3rd Company of the Lithuanian/Belarusian Division. They quietly get their things together and hope to escape the family home in the middle of the night before their parents are aware of their plans. Rytwinski convinced them that being in the army would be better than remaining home and watching cows graze.

When the war was over in 1920 they all received land grants as a reward for military service. Jan and Zygmunt had each taken part in two battles. Jozef Rytwinski would become the future husband of Jan’s younger sister Wacława. Bolesław Trojanowski, Usakowski, Pieczonko, Sciepura, Berezowski, Władysław Mazur, Fałkowski and others were given similar grants. My father, Zygmunt Trybuchowski got almost 14 hectares including some hectares of meadow separated from the main lands by about 2 kilometres. This had been purchased by the state from lands previously owned by Prince Radziwiłł. The area was known as Osada Lohwinowicze, district Niewież, county Nowogródek.

The Trybuchowski name on land titles (not the original Trzebuchowski name which came from the middle ages) had to be changed in order to prevent future confiscation of this land. This protected the buyer from being sent by the Russian Tsar to Siberia for taking part in the 1863 uprising as well. Surprising but perhaps intentional, all receivers of these granted lands were born in the same area. Jan, Zygmunt and Wacława were born in Orda. Zygmunt always liked to refer to it as Tartar Orda for the simple fact that many highly educated Tartars lived here whose ancestors served in the Polish armies of the 17 and 18thcenturies. They were professionals such as doctors, lawyers, dentists, pharmacists, and teachers. 

My sister Irena who is 2½ years older than me remembers the landscape better and describes it as being “flat as far as the eye could see, rather poor land without forests with a lazily flowing rivulet running close by.” Land parcels similar to these were given to other volunteers. Close to 60 grants were given out in the area to four osady: Łohwinowicze, Horka, Małe and Duże Ostrowczyce. Not all recipients chose to settle on their lands. Jan who lived in Krzywoszyn, part of the ancient Białowieża forest, where he was a bookkeeper, wanted to sell the land but in the meantime settled his parents there, while the neighbours on the right leased his land. After my father Zygmunt married in 1929 he moved for good to Łohwinowicze. Their lands were adjoining and had only one house covered with straw thatch. Both the old and young Trybuchowski’s lived together. Some of the others had no buildings on the land and had to live in quickly erected shelters partly dug out of the ground. The beginnings were very difficult for many of these people. One example was Trojanowski’s house which was completely destroyed by a fungus of some sort. 

The separation and building of our new house was completed in 1930. During its construction we lived in an empty barn. The new house was also built from solid wood planks, but on a high concrete or brick foundation. The outside of the house was still not completed by 1939. The shingles were made from a special wood that could withstand nature’s elements for a longer time and measured about 40 by 25 centimetres. The house had a high front porch and had 3 large rooms consisting of a huge front entrance, kitchen, utility room, and pantry. A cellar was built underneath one-quarter of the house. Mother furnished the house with a modern cooker, something like an Aga or Range cooker, with a baking partition for cakes and a separate bread-baking oven. 

Mother was a professional teacher, having finished her educational training college in Jaworów. Jaworów was the same place where King Jan III Sobieski in the 16th century danced with a local peasant’s wife at a wedding (an unheard-of gesture in those days). Mother often reminded me of this event.  She always kept the highest standards in the house and of home life. The other buildings on our land consisted of a cow/pig shed and a large new barn where the horse was kept. We also had a “steam" shed with wood storage, a chicken and duck shed and a large below-ground, concrete cellar for storage of potatoes, carrots, and parsnips for the cows.

(After our deportation to Siberia to the settlement of Kubalo, not far from Kotlas, Archangelsk district, this house was dismantled and re-erected as a school in Orda.)

In the meadows I remember seeing many storks and flowers. I can remember returning from the fields on top of a wagon full of hay and how its strong fresh aroma gave me a pounding headache. The nearest school was less than 2 km. away. I remember that my mother cycled with me as I sat on the handlebars. I must have been between 4 and 6 years old at the time. I sat amongst the other children learning what they did. The school only had two classes in the beginning and later on as the children got older we had three. Mother was the headmistress and the other teacher was Mrs. Strzelbicka. Children from Łohwinowicze (Trybuchowscy, Rytwińscy Usakowski, and from Horka (Trojanowski Mazur, Pieczonko, Berezowscy and Sciepurowie) attended this school as well as other children from nearby peasant villages and other settlements. The majority of children were Belarusian and Eastern Orthodox religions. A priest arrived to teach these religions including a Roman Catholic priest, Father Malecki, who came from Plaskowicz. I remember going for religious lessons to Mrs. Szczelbicka’s. She loved cats and the smell in her house was not always pleasant.

My mother, Olga Trybuchowska organised in her school the local Boy Scouts and Girl Guides, the Polish Red Cross and the Village Housewives Association. She was a member of the Teacher’s Association in Zaostrowiecze and also served as treasurer and a member of the Friend's Saving/Lending society. As a teacher, she liked shows and dances so she readily prepared children for the various events and musical celebrations, (e.g. name day of Marshal Pilsudski, Śmigły-Rydz, nativity plays and sports days). These events were shown annually on a specially erected stage in the marketplace of Zaostrowicze. I remember when there were celebrations with military parades with guns exploding on May 3rd or November 11th in Zaostrowiecze. I was always a bit frightened of the noise and always asked if they were going to shoot us. I did not particularly look forward to this part of the show. Usually the other local schools took part in these celebrations as well. 

I remember the trips we took to Baranowicze. I think we went by train from Reytanow. On the road we saw the local radio-station and the slaughterhouse. On visits to Wilno we saw the cemetery of Rossa and the churches of St. Ann, Peter and Paul. Some said these statues even grew hair. We saw Ostra Brama with the miraculous painting of the Madonna and child. 

Łohwinowicze started out just belonging to the county council of Zaostrowiecze. It grew from being a small market village on a trading route from Polesie to Kleck having weekly markets for forest articles. As time passed it grew larger and in 1926 became known as a small town. We had a wooden parish church but a fire destroyed it. We started rebuilding a new one of bricks but when the war started it still was not completely finished. I had my First Communion in that church and saw the arrival of the bishop. I remember the market where I always asked for ice cream and sweets - landrynki [boiled sweets] or chocolate, which I ate very quickly. Irka was wiser and always saved some for later. Sometimes she would give me some a few days later, after much begging.

Zaostrowiecze grew rapidly, with a 7-class primary school. This originated in a wooden building but in 1939 was moved into a brick building named after J. Pilsudski. Its headmaster was our friend Mr. Józef Podgóreczny who was very energetic and dedicated to children and social work. I started to attend that school in the 4th grade in September 1939.  His wife, Mrs. Władysława Podgóreczna was my teacher. They were both very good friends of our parents and were our godparents as well. They often visited our house with their children. The children came to visit with an extremely stubborn donkey. You had to pull his tail to make him move forward! The parents arrived in a car. The older boy was christened Adolf but changed his name to Marian at the outbreak of war. The younger brother Jerzy became a doctor, specializing in heart diseases, after the war. 

Father went to Zaostrowiecze nearly every day. He was in the management of the Agricultural Association “Kasa Stefczyka”. He was also the manager of the Milk Cooperative, so he brought home excellent butter. I can still remember that one of our workers named Teodora used to separate the cream from the milk to make butter while the rest of the milk went to the pigs. She used to make the butter in a special container. Cheeses were made by Józef Rytwinski.

In Zaostrowiecze there was a doctor's surgery, pharmacy, shops, bakery, cakes and ice cream, a fire station, police station, council library and they had many weekly markets. Close by in Chominka there was a forestry centre and K.O.P which was the Border Guards Corps. My father belonged to this as well, as he was a reserve soldier with the rank of sergeant. There was a scouting troop and other sport clubs. Dances and balls were held there.  My father was a very good dancer, especially at Mazurkas. He met his future wife at Hancewicze where she was a teacher and got to know the life of the poor, as well as  the wealthier szlachta [nobility], who were descendants of knights or their ennobled servants or other outstanding people who had served the king exceptionally well

Agriculture advisers and a hygienist were frequent visitors to the Village Housewives Association. The families were young with a lot of small children so there was a communal kindergarten in the house of Pani Śmietańka. I walked by Rytwiński's plot over the bridge on the River Lan, past Grzybowski's farm and the mill to the kindergarten. I can remember Mrs. Śmietańka becoming very ill. We as children formed a double row for the priest when he arrived to assist her at the end. All babies were delivered at home with the assistance of a midwife and all minor sicknesses were treated with home remedies. If you needed a dentist you had to travel to Kleck.

The housewives had to look after the households and the farming and worked a lot harder than their husbands. They cultivated linen flax so all winter was spent spinning, weaving and bleaching it in the sun. I can remember my aunt Halina had some sort of carousel in the middle of the kitchen from which you took the thread to the spindle and a loom. The cloth was bleached on our lawns and was quite intricate when finished. The covers had very fancy designs. In the winter, feathers from geese and ducks were plucked and cleaned for pillows and quilts. Everyone shared in this job, socializing, telling jokes and stories. 

The small farms were almost completely self-sufficient. Most had their own orchards with various fruits and lush vegetable gardens. I remember my father shredding large cabbages, two or three at a time for pickling. We usually had two barrels which lasted for a year in the cellar under the house. One year we had so many cucumbers that father delivered a whole wagon of pickling cucumbers under 10 cm. long to the factory at Radzilimont.  While there, he met a local peasant also with a wagon of cucumbers but of enormous size, which were naturally rejected. Cherries were particularly tasty, especially the morello cherries. To get us through the winter months many jams, preserves, pickled cucumbers, wild mushrooms, dried and pickled were prepared in abundance. I used to climb the old morello cherry tree and collect its resin which looked like amber and was delicious, while the fruit was used to make delicious jams and cherry vodka. Once I ate a whole jar of cherry jam by myself and was chastised by my father; this was the only time I can remember him intervening with a  scolding. The young orchard had apples we called malinówki and papierówki. They were golden and delicious and others were beginning to bear fruit. We had golden and black plums, strawberries, raspberries, and gooseberries. All kinds of blackberries, currants. Sliced pears and apples were dried or preserved. We also had homemade wine. I remember a May outing where my parents went kayaking but forbade us children to go near the water. As I was thirsty I drank half a bottle of juice that we had packed with us for the trip. When my parents returned I was unable to stand. As soon as I was up on my knees I flopped down again to the ground. Mother thought that I had some sort of paralysis but father spotted the juice bottle. It was actually a strong rice and raisin wine. They realized that I was not in some kind of paralysis but simply drunk from the wine! 

The winters here could be very cold, so the trees in the orchard had to be protected by tightly wrapping straw around them. In the autumn, my father painted the tree trunks with lime to protect them against insects while wrapping them. He also wrapped my mother's hybrid roses. 

I remember a large pig we had that was killed. I don’t know why but my father hired a butcher who knocked him out with an axe, then plunged a steel rod into the heart and cut his throat. The pouring blood was not wasted as it was collected for black pudding. The pigskin was cleaned with boiling water and then carefully scraped with a sharp scythe. Hams were preserved in a special liquid and smoked. We had homemade sausages, headcheese [brawn, salceson,] and salted pork fat. The meat was shared with the neighbours who repaid it when they butchered their own animal. 

A lot of wood had to be cut and split for winter storage. The inner walls of the cowshed and pigsty were lined with potato stalks, corn straw and some hay was piled under the roof to keep the animals warm in the cold winter. All our houses had wood stoves for heating. Ours was lined with tiles from floor to ceiling and ventilated to heat three rooms. Once the stove was fully loaded with wood it burnt for 24 hours. They were good stoves. Lighting was with paraffin lamps with tall glass chimneys. I remember father used to light his cigarettes from the top of the globe. Later on, we had pressure lamps. To walk about outside in darkness one used ordinary paraffin lamps specially designed in case of storms. Ironing clothes was done with coal-heated irons. We had a very good radio, powered by a battery that was charged once a month in the town. Neighbours used to come over quite often, hungry to hear the news from the world. 

In the kitchen we had a modern cooker with circular rings which you could take out, depending on the size of the pot used and a special stove just for baking cakes. My mother baked delicious cheesecakes, large almond or walnut tarts, honey cakes, mazurkas and poppy seed cakes. Father always had to grind the poppy seeds, while I licked the mixing bowls clean. Mother, although she followed recipes from cookbooks, had her own special ideas on how to change them. However she decided to change the main recipe, it always turned out well. We also had a special bread oven. The outside was lined with tiles but ours wasn’t very big, so nobody could sleep on it like on the bigger one at my aunt's where there was a warm and cozy spot in the back to lie on. Some houses only had the bread ovens and all the cooking was done in them, in special rounded pots. Bread baking was usually done at home on oak leaves every couple of days. From the bread dough my Mother would fry bliny. 

Laundry was probably done once a month and took 2 to 3 days in round wooden tubs, where clothes were twisted with a wooden twister. 

We always had two or three employees at our place. Teodora Łoktysz was in charge of our housework and some farm work. Her sister Zosia was a nanny and their brother Bazyli took care of general labour and chores. When Teodora got married my family went to her wedding in her Belarusian village. Her family was very fond of us. When the Bolsheviks invaded Poland on 17 September 17 we were not certain of our fate and Teodora’s family sheltered us in their cottage. Later still, while we were in Siberia we received a food parcel from them which saved us from starvation. Our relationships with Belarusians were very good. There were no cases of cruelty or vengeance on their part towards us as Poles. During harvest time father hired a lot more workers who were always willing to work for us because he not only paid them well but also provided them with food and vodka.

Wheat and rye were cut with a scythe. Later on perhaps in 1937-39 we used a reaper. A man sat controlling it while extended shears with four flailing arms much like a windmill, cut the stalks. The corn was gathered into bundles and after a few days was thrashed. In the beginning, it took 3 or 4 men with flails but these were later replaced with threshing and blow machines. Almost pure, clean grain was gathered into bags or stored on the ground in the barn. Threshers were powered by a horse moving a wooden beam on which I used to ride occasionally. The beam moved in a circle with power being transferred by axels, cogs and belts to the thresher while on the ground stalks were formed into tall haystacks. We children dug out caves for hiding during hide and seek games in these tall stalks. Once we were playing and sliding down from the top of the stalks and I fell onto an agricultural fork. It pierced my knee, with a visible scar that I still have today as a reminder. Soon agricultural machinery was rented. Straw that was to be mixed with grain or other plants such as clover or hay was cut outside by the side of the straw stack. A cow-shed lined with straw and hay was designed to hold four cows and pigs, small hens, ducks and geese. Once I was told to watch over a hen with chicks so that hawks would not take them. In the barn we had separate compartments where we kept rye, wheat, barley, etc. before being sold. One year our horse Góral was tied at the door of the barn and every time I approached the door to get out for supper he kicked at me. After what seemed a long time my father finally rescued me. Since that time I do not like horses and have never been on one. We had a concrete-lined well with a cranked chain with a bucket that was shared by us and Aunt Alina's settlement. This was in a square shape surrounded by a high wooden fence to protect us against wolves in the winter.

Father had a 3-year rotation system for crops. He planted rye, some barley, wheat and small areas of flax and hemp. The hemp was particularly excellent for playing games such as hide and seek and I remember it being thrashed on some sort of wooden horse to get rid of the outer bark. We had corn, some carrots for us and special ones for the animals, a small field of serradella, alfalfa, buckwheat and lupins to improve fertility of the soil for next year's crop. I remember the field of potatoes, I used to help burn the stalks and bake the potatoes in the ashes which always seemed much tastier when we cooked them in the field. After the potatoes were dug up, they were transported and thrown down a wooden trough with a loud noise into the cellar. In the cellar under the house we had barrels of pickled cabbage, cucumbers, raw carrots, beetroots in the sand. While on the outside we had a much larger concrete cellar with potatoes for planting next year that were kept separate.

Sometimes I helped to graze the cows in the field which I remember looked rather bare and was supposed to be ploughed and re-sown next year, while the fields after corn seemed to turn green with clover. I used to help, maybe hinder, to spread the cow muck and sit on the harrow pulled by the horse. Father complained of couch grass. There were very few poppies, cornflowers, and thistles. Artificial fertilizers improved the crops.

All the furniture in our home, which consisted of a table, 6 chairs, bookcase, large, tall sideboard and divan bed, were all specially built from oak. The inside walls of the home were painted white by my mother with a border of grapes and hung with her paintings of red poppies. We had father's mandolin and a radio in the corner which was moved to the side at Christmas for the tree. One year I accidentally overturned it. On the table was set a long Lowicz tapestry with a paraffin lamp and a vase of flowers. In the room we had a rubber plant, myrtle and a cheese plant. There was also a wax plant which mother used to take out for the night when in flower. She said its strong but pleasant smell could put one to sleep forever. In my parent's bedroom there was a Singer sewing machine. In front of the house the concrete porch was overgrown with a fruit climber. I used to stick 4 matches into the grapes for legs and pretend these were my sheep. The children's bedroom also had a different border painted in it. Of the toys, I remember a pop gun shooting corks on a string, a small field gun which when fired with its "bullet" exploded with a bang. We also had a hand-gun shooting blanks from a paper roll and lead soldiers. We had wooden cubes with 6 fables printed on the sides, like Glass Mountain, Cinderella, Snow White with dwarfs and Red Riding Hood, which had to be arranged correctly to see the fables. 

Considering that the life on the settlements was started from scratch, progress during this short period was fantastic. It only required a few more years for all the settlers to be quite financially secure. In our case my mother's salary quickened this process for us and enabled us to live a bit better than other settlers as our loan from the state was paid off.

Social life was quite developed. On my old pre-war photographs are groups of some 15 people on bicycles and theatre shows. I know that we often paid visits to close and distant relatives and there were a lot of them. Two generations past, families had on an average of six children. My grandfather Rytwinski had four sons Adam, Jan, Teofil, Stefan and three daughters, Emilia (my grandmother), Malwina and Józefa. They lived in the same district for several generations. Aunt Wacia once saw workers removing a stack of hay from their property and raised hell because she thought they were stealing. In the end her husband admitted that he lost the stack of hay in a game of cards. There were so many relatives I can’t remember them all, except for names like Maciejewscy, Jarmolincsy, Kiszko and Trojanowscy and Rytwińscy. There is a small town named Sidorow, the same name as my grandmother’s. Whether her ancestors founded it, I do not know. Jakub Żeromski married Maria Rogowska and their eldest daughter Helena, who was my grandmother, married Dymitr Sidorow,.

My granny on my mother’s side lived in Buczacz, Podole, which was in southwestern Poland. In their garden were delicious pears which I used to find in the grass in the morning. I remember for breakfast we had a yellowish tasty soup with noodles which I thought were made from eggs. Actually it was made with cornflower, but the very same soup prepared at our home did not taste the same as Granny’s and I did not like it. Close to Gran's house there was a hill called Podhorodle, from which I used to like to roll down. I also remember the deep ravines of the rivers. My father often said that he would have liked to take their loamy soil to his place.

My mother’s sister Rozia would come to visit with her son Józio and uncle Władysław from Buczacz. In one of Irka’s letters she writes that in the winter we dug caves and passages in the snow to play in them, while in summer we baked sand cakes. We climbed trees, jumped over fences and played soldiers with the Rytwinskis. We visited the Trojanowskis and invented other games. For Christmas and Easter holidays we often visited Podgóreczny and they came and socialized in our home. 

As far as we children were concerned at the time, we were very happy. We had carefree years until 1939 when the war started looming over us. On 17 September 1939 when the Russians invaded Poland we were outside and could hear shooting and large explosions. A plane flew overhead and mother hid us all amongst the rows of potatoes. Our homestead was some 8 km. from the border. The settlement system consisted of about 8500 farmsteads, which invigorated Polish people on the borders and was stopped under pressure from Russia. 

I have a photo of my father being mobilized to the army in September 1939. After September we did not know what happened to him. The Soviets occupied half of Eastern Poland. Mother was taken for indoctrination and had to learn the Russian language to teach and speak at the school. Once when teaching the Soviet national anthem she missed on purpose the verse "No God, no Tsar, no hero" and at once somebody reported her and she was threatened with imprisonment. Only a few days before Christmas our father suddenly arrived home. He had been imprisoned by the Soviets. If somebody was not in uniform and had calloused hands from work he was discharged, while officers or smooth handed men were later executed in Katyn forest. Father who was educated in a Russian school said that he talked his way out of prison but a copy of the documents confirmed he was released by them. The stay at home was not long, for on 10 February 1940 about 3 o'clock in the morning loud banging on the door woke us up and shouts to open the door.  Two soldiers with guns and bayonets with red stars on their pointed caps and three civilians gave us two hours to pack our belongings. They said "sobierajties z wieszczami" [“pack your things”] as we would be re-settled to some other country with milk and honey. Father hid but was soon found and for that he had to lie in the corner of the room with stretched legs under guard of one of the soldiers. Mother lost her head completely, only taking a jar of jam and documents in a briefcase plus a sack of dried bread. Fortunately, our aunt Rozia and uncle Władek were with us. They were not on the list to be deported so they helped by packing warm clothing, bedding, food, etc. for a possibly long journey. 

Apparently, Stalin had it all planned years back, taking his revenge for the defeat of his army at Warsaw in 1920. 







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