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
District (Powiat) Krzemieniec
Szyły... Short name but what a great deal of history is encapsulated in this word. Our settlement, a subdivided estate of the Hulanicki family, with a one-time beautiful large country house, 'palace', as the locals both Ruthenian and Polish called it. By “one-time” I mean before the First World War, it was during and after, that very little of the 'palace' was left.
As a result of military settlements being established on our Borderlands, that is, the eastern flanks of the Republic, this estate went to the legendary “second-brigaders” along with their former commander, General Marian Żegota-Januszajtis. Many military settlers who came from these units and very often from this command, settled in the Krzemieniec district, in particular, but also in the Dubieniec and Łuck districts.
It wasn’t that easy for a former soldier to immediately become a professional farmer and that is why, at least until the 1930’s, many of them led a hand-to-mouth existence. Many were saved by the different skills acquired before they enlisted into the legions, or learnt actually during their service. And so, we had with us in Szyły, an excellent professional butcher, Mr Burda, who at least once a year prepared an English breed of pig for us, Mr Gowda, a brilliant blacksmith, Mr Mleka, a bricklayer, who gradually rebuilt the “palace” to its new splendour. His friends called him “Smietańka (“Cream”) instead of “Mleka” (“Milk”) as he was such a magnificent craftsman and person. He never asked for payment for his hard work from the “General” who, though of a higher rank, for some years did not earn much more from his plot due to being dismissed without pay from his post as a result of the coup in May 1919. [Ed. Note: The coup of 1919 by Żegota-Januszajtis, military head of right-wing National Democrats, and others failed against the socialist government of Jędrzej Moraczewski and Józef Piłsudski. The original Polish text gives the date for the coup as 1926 in error]. It was only from 1931, when the owner of the “palace” finally received his pension (he was only 42 at the time), that he plucked up the courage to buy a set of threshers and personally threshed grain for anyone who needed it and from the proceeds paid for services provided to him; amongst them, Mleka, Burdy, and Gowdy, and even Mr. Pomes, the owner of the local watermill. He also threshed for those who had nothing with which to pay. And when fires broke out here and there - as happens in the countryside - and you saw it destroy the entire property of the unfortunate owner of a two-morg estate [Ed. note: morgen is a historical measure of land, 1 morg = approx 1.3 acres], it was of course clear that the man had to be provided with at least a metre (bushel) of wheat and potatoes from the 60-acre “palace” so as to survive the harsh Wołyń winter or to sow essentials on his patch of land. Also, when typhoid encroached the clay dwellings in Szyły – the doctor being far away, the “Ginieral” [Ed. note: heavily Polish accented word for General] professionally attended the sick with injections and even punctured bloated cows with a trocar [Ed. note: veterinary instrument used to puncture the wall of a body cavity] - oh my, what a stench - bringing them back to life, although he himself once almost lost his life trying to subdue an infuriated bull.
I remember how a huge bull of the red Polish breed suddenly broke from its stake, irritated by a poor candidate for a mate, and ran off blindly through our farm just as a fairly large group of local girls - our workers on the field - were returning to their homesteads after work. I saw the employees running off in a panic in all directions, along with the owner of the spurned cow. My father, standing in front of the “palace”, saw what was happening and from there grabbed a red rug or sheet and with a great spurt (despite severe arthritis caused by living in earthen dwellings) encountered the bull near to one of the trees on our land and yelled in a loud voice “Buckets of water! Quick, slosh it straight between the eyes!” - but the pump was almost 100m away. The water did not appear immediately, so the “toreador” General brandished his red sheet causing the bull to rush towards him away from the crowd and, at the last moment, he nipped behind the tree and wallop, the bull crashed. This continued until suddenly, my father stumbled and fell flat on the ground. The enraged animal jumped towards him, skidding with his front hooves on either side, aiming his huge head at the face of his opponent. At this critical moment, buckets of water were thrown at the bull but also straight into my father’s eyes. Literally, the last second. The bull was brought under control and my father went home to wash and dress two huge, bloody, long wounds. During and after the accident, smiling in a swashbuckling way, he joked around as if nothing had happened. “That’s how he was” – as, among others, his former subordinate, the late General Tadeusz Malinowski said of him in his funeral eulogy in Crawley in 1973.
Our plot adjoined that of my uncle Antoni Januszajtis and Colonel Turek. Here I will digress with the news my brother, Marek, received in October of this year [Ed. note circa 1991], directly from Szyły from a remarkable source about the Colonel and his family and others. A Ruthenian farmer, Eustachy Trofimczuk, a man of great worth, arrived from Szyły in 1960 to visit his two sons living in western Poland. He told them that Colonel Turek was arrested in Szyły in 1941 by the Germans, taken to Lwów, then to Oświęcim, and there killed. The widow of the settler Lazarewicz was shot by the Soviet NKVD when she didn’t want to give up her “only window to the world”, as she called it, that is, her radio set. I know that settler Pomes, the miller’s brother, was apparently in England - perhaps an ex-soldier in “Anders Army”? Major Jan Góra, the neighbour of Pomes, the father of the famous pre-war glider pilot and winner of the long-distance world record in glider flight [Ed. note: Tadeusz Góra Lilienthal Gliding Medal, May 1938], and later one of our ace pilots in the Battle of Britain remained in England after the war. He (Jan) died and was buried in the Polish Centre in Penrhos in Wales. Uncle Antoni settled in London following a 10-year exile to Siberia, and it was there that he died. He was laid to rest in Streatham. Settlers whose fates I know nothing are Mleka, Burda, blacksmith Gowda, Colonel Strutyński, Knapik, and teacher J. Barga. However, I know about one legendary soldier, a true Chinese man Marian Inczu, from our Szyły settlement (he was baptised and took his name after his commander, my father). He found himself in England as a former soldier of the 2nd Corps, and, meeting my brother Marek by accident (!) at Victoria Station in London, many years ago now, said: [Ed. note: in broken Polish:] “Mr Marki, Mr say, Mr General, that Marian Inez going to China, to teach Chiang Kai-shek [Ed. note: phonetic Czanghajczeka in original Polish text] how to beat communists”. And off he went, and was never heard of again; I know about this from his son Staś Incza, who, back in the day was a doorkeeper or porter in our Polish Club in Balham in London.
My father was very deeply tied to our settler fraternity in many different ways. Firstly: these were his soldiers, his comrades through tough military struggles for “Poland, the mother of all her faithful sons” as Paderewski stated in Paris in 1940. These were his beloved people - Polish people - colleagues whom he trusted boundlessly, whose outstanding values he knew to the very core, whom he endeavoured to serve in the broadest meaning of the word, educationally, socially, politically and ideologically, but also practically when required as a professional agricultural engineer. He often went out “into the field” on his makeshift farm cart because it was still too early for even the most modest of carriages. He would visit settlers here and there, from Wola Wilsona right up to the historic Wiśniowiec, starting from as far as around Krzemieniec, Dubno, and Łucko. Sometimes during the summer holidays, my brother Marek and I would accompany our father on these visits.
I will mention one such that was most emotional for me. Three to four years before the last war, settler Józef Pustelniak from Wola... near Wiśniowiec, Białozorki in the direction of Mołotkowo, invited our father to be godparent at the christening of his child. It was then, that he reminded the settlers gathered together at this christening, of their continued duties of safeguarding our eastern frontiers of the Republic. Even though given in private and in a private home, it was precisely for this “speech without the permission of the district authorities” that he was disciplined with quite a high fine by the Starosta [Ed. note: Between 1918-1939, an official post as head of administration in the province, subordinate to the governor]. But this is merely a sorry digression, because my memories of this christening are connected to the honest, deeply true and firmly constructive bond between my father and the military settlements. And so it was, there, at the burial ceremony of my parents’ ashes at a cemetery in Zakopane, in the year of independent Solidarity in 1981, among thousands of attendees, that I recognised, after at least 45 years, the very same devoted mate, close to or over eighty-year-old, settler Pustelniak, with his son, now a forty-something-year-old godchild of my father. The old man, with tears in his eyes said: “I came to say goodbye, too late to greet…”
Szyły often hosted our settlers, whether individuals, like Józef Królikowski from Wola Wilsona who frequently visited, or from Mołotkow from where groups of 100 - 200 men with their entire families would come down to visit us to celebrate “His” name day [Ed. note: feast day of the saint after whom one is named], or in the summer to have a look at exemplary agricultural and horticultural farms while listening to such helpful lectures on this topic. Of course, there had to be quite an ample pot of hearty hunters' stew (bigos) with home brewed apple wine. In 1929, Szyły became an experimental outpost propagating several arable crops which were little or completely unknown and uncultivated in Poland. Here, we cultivated the “Wilno variety of Chinese soybeans”, fodder hollyhock, and foxtail millet, in other words, Mongolian millet. And, in modern horticulture, they tried applying the Michurin Method - with excellent outcomes. I, born technically minded - neither through fault or merit - carried out renovations of various kinds of machines and technical devices that were helpful in our agricultural, horticultural and dairy farming work.
What more can I write about this place, Szyły? Actually, quite a lot because it was, for instance, located between the historic Wiśniowiec in Wołyń and no less historic Zbaraż in Podole and, at the same time, the fields to the southwest delineated the Dniester river basin from the Pripyat river basin. There were also huge quarries there and, below it, the Żyrak creek, a tributary of the Horyn River, rich in... river lobsters, in other words, Polish crayfish... Along the creek and close to our “palace”, at a distance of 100 m, was the Tarnopol-Zbaraż railway line, and further on was our station, Kamaczówka-Łanowce, (now Szepietówka) But my parents didn’t need to use Kamaczówka station, when occasionally visiting their old friends in Tarnopol in the former command of the 12th Borderland Rifle Division, the Division which was commanded by my father in 1920. It was sufficient to walk the 100 m and wait “with your bags” by the railway track. The train always stopped and the train conductor or driver, who was often my father’s former subordinate or simply a citizen of the province city of Tarnopol, gratefully inviting them to first-class naturally, although later my father was asked to buy, at least, a third-class ticket.
About the restitution of Polish churches - the centre of this action took place in Szyły - one could also write a lot, for instance, about “Batiuszka” [Ed. note: orthodox priest], a good-hearted and wise man. He knelt down on the black soil of the track welcoming the Catholic Bishop Gawlina, kissing his bishop’s ring and, moved, said to an equally moved Gawlina: “Oh, when will we be one?!”
The ominous Ukrainianism had not yet reached the Mołotków and Łanowiec regions, almost right next to the very border with the USSR. At our place, in Szyły, in 1939, right when I was in the middle of grain threshing in place of my father who, at the time, was fighting in the ranks of the Defenders of Lwów, a Soviet jeep arrived out of nowhere. An NKVD officer ordered work to stop and for several dozen good workers, men and women, to gather around the car, after which he said: “You will no longer be oppressed by your master - we bring you freedom!” There was complete silence and then one of the workers, Jakim (Jakub) Szpilman, (probably the family of a settler of German-origin from way back, later diluted by marriage with the locals) stepped forward and said loudly: “Oh no, all our master did was help us, came to our rescue, treated illnesses, and taught us”. The NKVD officer sat down and drove away immediately.
The local Ruthenians did not murder anyone in our settlement, they burnt nothing because German-begotten Ukrainianism had not fully reached here, although the clear glow of burning Polish estates lit up the sky towards Zbaraż and Tarnopol for many days and nights. In Szyły, our settlers maintained proper relations with the local Ruthenian population, under the commanding example of my father and in the name of neighbourly love. And so, perhaps they too responded with love? Otherwise traditionally superstitious, perhaps they dared not harm us, having been made aware by the “General”, before he left Szyły, that: “If during my absence so much as a single hair is harmed on anyone’s head in Szyły, remember this: I will make sure you pay for it, whether dead or alive”. The tales told above and the actions of Trofimczuk, Mielnik, Paziński or Szpilman suggests rather that the response was love, in the spirit in which “He” led Szyły.
The right to fight for one’s livelihood is the right for the existence of life in the world. The one who builds on lies and deceit is weaker, compared to the one who builds on truth. Just like a commander in a battle who relies on false news and is guided by false reports is heading towards defeat, so too a nation that builds its thoughts on lies is heading towards oblivion.
Lwów, 6th August 1923, speech at the convention of the Legionists