Reminiscences of working in the Settlers’ Union Lower Secondary School in Równe, Wołyń from September 1937 until the second half of February 1940.
There were comprehensive schools in the settlements but children were growing older and parents were thinking about their further education. The plan was fulfilled in 1939-1937 when the Settlers’ Union Lower Secondary School was opened in Równe.
It was a co-educational, private lower secondary school with full State school rights. It was located in Grabnik, in its very own, beautiful and modern building. The right-wing of the building had already been completed. It housed large classrooms, various kinds of school rooms, the school medical room, and a wide corridor, temporarily used for gym exercises and games. On the first floor were the residential rooms for boys - sons of the settlers, who were attending secondary schools in Równe. The middle section, which was almost complete, housed utility rooms and large rooms. The left-wing, which was set aside to be the boarding house for girls, was still under construction. In the meantime, the girls were housed in Sucharówka, close to the train station, and walked to school. The lower secondary school was of the developmental type. In the first school year of 1937-1938, it had three parallel first form classes, in the next year, second and first form classes, and in 1939-1940, there also was a third form class. Each class had three sections with 32-36 pupils on average. For experimental and practical reasons, the departments grouped the youth in the following manner:
Section A - settler children living in boarding houses;
Section B - children from the city of Równe;
Section C - children who travelled to school, mainly from Zdołbunów.
The Headmaster was Magister Łukasz Gaj, who was also the head of the boarding houses.
There were two Instructors in the boarding house for boys: B. Zieliński, and Cz. Jankowski. They were descendants of Poles who were exiled to Russia and who had settled near Lake Baikal. Thanks to the efforts of the Red Cross, a group of Polish children were transported out of Russia, through Japan, and arrived in Poland after the year 1920. The average age of the children was 10-15 years. Children who did not have families in Poland were taken care of by individual persons or organisations like the Settlers’ Union, who took charge of their education, committing them to later work in the Union.
Two people worked in the boarding house for girls: the head and one instructor.
It was the duty of the instructors to work with the youth outside of school, supervise the pupils in doing their homework, implement the educational programme of the Hearths (Boarding Houses), teach gymnastics skills, lead the choir, and organise events.
The secretary of the lower secondary school was settler Władysław Jakubowski. As the school grew bigger, it became necessary to additionally hire a Junior Secretary. Secretary Jakubowski also served as the manager of the boarding houses. This was a very demanding and responsible job.
Settlers who had difficulties in paying their boarding house fees would pay in kind with supplies such as potatoes, flour, and others. They would additionally pay one zloty per month towards the summer camp fund. This fund and donations from the Settlers’ Union ensured that the settler youth had summer camps free of charge. Since the lower secondary school was private, there was a monthly tuition fee but biannually, or occasionally, the teachers’ conference would decide on a partial or complete exemption from the fees for specific pupils. This was a distinction for good progress in learning or assistance in case of a deteriorating financial situation of the parents.
The President of the Settlers’ Union in Równe was Dezydery Smoczkiewicz, a war invalid.
The settlers, their children, the school staff, and the Hearths formed one large family. There were youth dances and during the carnival season dances were organised for the settlers and school and boarding house tutors. During the Christmas holidays, one could take advantage of the Settlers’ Union hostel in Kukula near Worochta, [Ed. note:Located in the Carpathian mountains on the Czechoslovak border] where people would go skiing.
Each Settlers’ Union Hearth had its own educational and entertainment programme, in line with the general programme from the Hearth Headquarters in Warsaw. The programme was developed by the head and the instructors of the relevant Hearths. They would come to the National Hearth convention with a uniform programme comprising gymnastic exercises, choir singing, and orchestral performances. Such a gathering in 1939 took place in Grodno. Due to the very large numbers of young people, accommodation was provided in the local barracks.
Separate summer camps for boys and girls were organised during the summer holidays free of charge. These were canoeing camps, hiking in Polesie, or in the mountains. The hiking tour programme was meticulously worked out with the youths signing up for the tour at the beginning of the school year. The route of the hike was set with locations and dates of each overnight stay. The tour programme also included matters such as: characteristics of the local population, the principles of general hygiene and sanitary assistance, and even provision of entertainment for the local population was planned with organised campfires. The complete programme was sent to the Headquarters of the Settlers’ Union.
Having experience in mountain trekking from the time I studied geography in Krakow, I was in charge of a hiking tour in July of 1939 (16 girls) from the Równe Hearth, in the Eastern Beskid Mountains . That was two weeks of trekking, ending with a week's stay in our hostel in Kukula. We slept in hostels or barns, bought our own supplies, and did our own cooking. The girls would take turns in pairs to carry the necessary equipment including a cooking pot, which was used as a punishment for breaking mountain rules. The girls brought up in the lowlands didn't realise the dangers present on mountain trails. An unforgettable event was a night storm during our stay in the hostel on Kostrzyca. The echo of lightning in the mountains doubled the terror. All the group cowered in my bunk bed. After a week’s stay in the Settlers’ Union hostel in Kukula, where we met up with other groups of trekkers, we left by train from Worochta, through Lwów, to Równe. With our frugal management, there was still enough to go to the theatre in Lwów. We left straight after the play and were in Równe in the morning. Such an exploration taught girls how to get along together, responsibility, and was an unforgettable experience. Unfortunately, the camp logbook with photos was lost along with the school records in 1939. I managed to keep only a few photos of my own. When the Soviet Army invaded in September 1939, everything changed dramatically. New teachers and pupils had been imposed. The teaching of history was scrapped; the school was transferred to another building; and, ultimately, the tragic night of 10 February 1940, and the deportation of settler families. The hard and fruitful work of the settlers in the field of farming and culture ceased to exist, and they shared the fate of thousands of Poles deported into the depths of Soviet Russia.
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
Magister DANUTA MARSZALIK-ŁABANOWSKA
EDUCATION AND FORMATION OF SETTLER CHILDREN
District (Powiat) Równe