​​​​​​​​​T H E   H I S T O R Y    O F   K R E S Y
Osady - Military Settlements 1921-1940​​​

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) NOWOGRÓDEK


Municipality (Gmina) Białohruda
District (Powiat) Lida

I am the daughter of a military settler and would like to write about events in one particular settlement. I know and love this history because I was born and brought up in this very settlement. Its name is Mały Olżew.

After the January Insurrection [Ed. note: Insurrection took place in 1863 against partition and occupation by the Russian Empire] many pre-partition Polish estate holdings in the eastern borderlands of Poland were confiscated from Poles who took part in the insurrection.

These lands were offered by the Tsar to deserving Russians who took part in crushing the insurrection or remained the property of the state or Tsar and were under the administration of Russian officials.

Polish people, the rightful owners, were usually deported to Siberia or died in prisons, sometimes they managed to flee abroad but they never returned to their estates. After the First World War, when the tsarist “landlords” left these lands, they lay waste.

Józef Piłsudski had the thought of settling people there, hardy legionnaires and other military men who were noted for their bravery in Polish military formations during the War and were now transferring from active duty to the reserve forces.

And so it was, in the year 1920, that usually young officers and non-commissioned officers with their newly formed families were posted to Mały Olżew and Szczytniki in the Lida District, among the estates of the nobility and small villages, and abandoned estates, populated with Polish-Belarusian people. 

There was a large, white manor house in Mały Olżew with columns and a porch, surrounded by tall trees and an orchard. It stood there, as in Mickiewicz’s poem - inviting! About fifteen families were selected to live there for the time being! Happily! There were several large rooms and two kitchens in the manor so the newcomers somehow were able to arrange room allocations for themselves.

The allocated plots of land were not that big, depending on the soil, and ranged from around thirty up to 100 and 150 acres, including meadows and woods. Mały Olżew was situated on a plain, while Szczytniki was on undulating terrain. The higher ground tended to be sandy. But the land in the valleys was generally fertile but at times waterlogged, so, to begin with, this land seemed useless. 

Over the next two years, the settlers put up their houses on their plots. They received wood for construction for free from the state forests and the surrounding area. The first homes were small, usually two-roomed with a kitchen and 'inglenook', and with an attachment for the modest livestock. They were built with the help of the locals - carpenters, masons (for cooking stoves), joiners from the surrounding villages: Reklowiec, Mochowicz, and from as far as Myto. In English, they would be called log houses (timbered houses).

The manor - the first home of the settlers, survived unspoilt until 1939 thanks to Captain Krawczyk, who restored and renewed it and extended it with a few buildings during his 18 years of livestock farming.

In 1924, a major and memorable event in the settlement was the visit of Marshal Piłsudski. After all, the legionnaires and volunteers were the “Grandfather’s boys”, and they so earnestly loved him. On one of the memorable photographs from this event stood the Commander-in-Chief under a tree with a wide-spreading canopy in his modest military uniform without any distinctions, surrounded by soldiers also in uniform. Several, including my father, were sitting at his feet. Their faces were emaciated but beaming. The beautiful welcome that the wives of the settlers prepared was long and often retold.

At the outset of their life together in the settlement they devised a farming system together. The seed-grain for sowing was meticulously divided up. Everyone ploughed their fields using horse-drawn ploughs. The land, lying fallow, was difficult to cultivate and needed working. Strewn with stones of different sizes, lifting was at times almost impossible. But it was fertile. In summer, weeds would appear amongst the sown crops. Despite forming a beautiful flowery carpet of camomile, tares, corncockle, and thistles. These weeds were not welcome, thistles particularly had to be removed from the fields by hand. Stones were also gathered by hand. Stone outcrops and granite boulders were moved, pulled by horses on skids made of planks of wood, for the foundations and jambs in the remaining farm buildings in the early years and later, in the larger houses around the 1930s.

Eight-field rotation was introduced, that is, a potato-grain rotation system. This depended on changing the type of sowing each year to improve the harvests. This was recommended by farming instructors. Five or ten-acre fields were easy to establish in one piece on these plots. Most of the land in Mały Olżew and Szczytniki was for wheat. Winter and spring wheat grew very well as did oats, barley, mixed feeds, and serradella (common bird's foot) with interweaving vetch which reached to waist-level - a true delicacy for cattle! Large fields of three potato varieties could be seen everywhere: early, pink, and late, as well as for livestock feed. Fodder beets and turnips and whatever was profitable in the local market in Lida or for rearing livestock were planted. Slowly, larger herds of homebred cows appeared with a clear breed specialisation. The Red Polish breed, a whole herd of them, first grazed at Colonel Ordyłowski’s. Soon, others introduced them in their own farms because butter shaped in ornate moulds was in demand not only on the market but also in the officers’ mess of the 3rd Regiment in Lida. Settler Krawczyk, having the most meadows, started rearing Friesian cows. He would regularly have milk to sell in bulk and he sold some of the cattle to the slaughterhouse for meat.

Sometime in the 1930s, they took measures to drain the wetland meadows, not only increasing the pasture area but the hay harvest threefold. Large orchards were also set up over the next few years, helped by the favourable climate. The lower regions surrounded by woodland from the northeast turned out to be particularly good terrain for the cultivation of apples. Settler Kaźmierczak planned to set up a plum orchard, planting five to six different varieties and in large numbers. This is how he took the early and lucrative market. Saplings were brought over in huge quantities from the famous nurseries of Weller in Vilnius. They arrived in quantities ranging from 150-250 at a time. Sour cherries and pears were planted close to the houses so that such enormous 'honeysweets' grew within easy reach. After five years of nursing, grafting, and pruning of the fruit trees, there was more fruit than the market could absorb. Attempts were made at homemade jam and wine production. In 1939, vineyard and fruit drying facility plans were made in order to bring something new to the market and to scale up the supplies to cover the whole country.

By this time, every settler had his own house plus several new farm buildings. In particular expanded sheds and granaries were erected. They also had some farming machines like reapers, threshers, dust and chaff separators, potato harvesters, which they lent amongst themselves. My father bought a newly manufactured potato steam oven for pig feed. Pig rearing was profitable, especially for bacon suitable for export.

Horse breeding was also profitable before the war. The settlers themselves trained them and sold them to the Regiment. Anglo-Arabs and Arabs were most in demand. Farms also needed horses for their own purposes. Youths would ride them to the shops and sometimes showed off by racing each other.

It would be hard not to explain that a sort of domestic specialisation arose amongst settlers. This arose out of a simple necessity of life. They self-taught themselves with the help of books and workshops as, for instance, in the area of veterinary medicine, soil determination for artificial fertilisers, meat processing, etc. It is possible every one of them had some prior knowledge on these topics. For example, settler Nowosad could treat pigs. Dr (Colonel) Ordyłowski, practising free of charge, visited very sick children, gave advice, and referred patients to specialists. Whereas Maria Pawlas would help midwives and assist with deliveries, simply out of goodwill. Although the settlers could use the army doctor’s surgery, people usually used private healthcare services. Housewives usually completed baking and cooking classes, especially in winter when there wasn’t much work to do in the fields. Our beloved mothers brought ornamentation, embroidery, even weaving skills with them - one of these was settler Świeca. They helped out in school during Christmas holidays, teaching into the long evening hours. They introduced the custom of reading Polish literature aloud, such as Sienkiewicz’s “Trilogy”.

A few words should also be added about how relations with local people developed. They were very good on both sides from the very beginning. Just as the settlers were warmly welcomed in 1920, so later on locals were happy to be employed by them. In the 1920s, settlers recruited harvesters with scythes and sickles en masse to harvest the grain and dry hay (before machines were bought). They dug potatoes, taking 40 rows in one go, while others would load them onto the carts. They helped with the sowing and ploughing. They supplied the settlers with their own cloth, wooden wares, baskets, products made in their own smithies, they also fitted horseshoes.

In exchange, the locals also received agricultural and social advice. The settlers would write out requests for tax exemption for them, military service exemption, loans, school admissions, and they even guaranteed debts for some.

Certain settlers also held higher positions in town offices. For instance, settler Zadurski was the Mayor [Polish "Burmistrz"] of Lida, and settler Górski, the Director of the bank.

Apart from that, almost every farmer in the settlements would hire farm workers, men to work in the fields, boys to tend to the cows in the summer and girls to help out in the home.

The settler youth attended the same schools as the children from the village. There was no class divide between us but there was competition in sports and learning. We sat secondary school exams together. The Gmina [Municipality] and the Police Association gave scholarships to the most talented pupils from rural environments. We learnt the Belarusian language, old customs and tales.

Then, religious education was given by the excellent Father Horodźko (the majority of the population belonged to the Roman Catholic parish). He served everyone equally and taught religion himself in the seven-class school. He was demanding in terms of education, a great patriot, warning the people against communist agitators from the east. He was well respected and loved by the parishioners.

Throughout the 18-year period, the co-existence of the settlers with the local people greatly elevated them culturally and awakened their sense of citizenship, cleansed their language from eastern influences and stimulated solidarity with Polish society from other districts.

More mature settler youth continued their studies in vocational schools - the business school of the Piarist Fathers in Lida or other schools in Vilnius. A secondary school for boys, for settlers’ children, was founded in Lida with settlers’ money. In 1920, there were no schools at all in the villages. The Marshall’s “boys” pioneered the return of Polish culture to the “Kresy” borderlands and the upholding and promoting of this spirit among the people.

The picture of settlements in 1939 really was charming and impressive. In spring, when orchards were in bloom, great numbers of townsfolk came to admire them and take deep breaths of the fresh and fragrant air. They travelled along the road - an old Napoleonic route, a wide road lined with beautiful trees and juniper. This road linked both settlements located alongside it. It linked them with the Municipality, the school, and the police headquarters. Carts going to the Lida fair and back rolled down it every day. On Sundays, people hurried along it to the church. Groups of children would cover two to three-kilometre distances on foot, filling them with the lively hubbub of chatter. Power lines and telephone lines were already being put up and there were plans to replace the road with a highway. It linked many "Kresy" borderland towns - for people’s convenience. Today, it has been cleared and completely stripped of its trees.

On returning home from school for the holidays we were greeted by the lights from the large windows and verandas of our homes, tall cranes- stork nests with their cheerful clatter, and a myriad of different kinds of domestic poultry. The fields swayed in the wind... Everything lived and enjoyed life thanks to the freedom and our fathers’ achievements.

Mały Olżew - settlers: Wołowicki, Kaźmierczak, Szumski, Mączyński, Żmuda-Ronc, Krawczyk, Drozdowski (my father), Świeca, Zajączkowski, Panada, Pawlas, Nowosad, Kowalczyk, Bielejewski, Maculewicz, and Wasilewski.

Szczytniki - settlers: Ciara, Berdowski, Kuś, Ordyłowski, Bielejewski, Pawelski, Babiarz, and Szurmiej.

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