GLOSSARY
Poland glossary

Maria

(POLAND 19)

Sex

female

Age

80

Occupation

pensioner

Location

Stara Lomnica

Date

July 1999

 

transcript

Section 1
Could you introduce yourself?
Maria Szmigiel, I live in Stara Lomnica.

When were you born?
28 September 1919 in the Czech Sudety.

In the Czechs?
Yes, in the Czechs. In the past, we belonged to Czechoslovakia.

What country did this area belong to at that time?
There were a lot of Germans and Czechs. I went to the primary school for eight years, and one year to a Czech school.

Could you describe that school?
Oh, it was a very good school, both the German one and the Czech one, but it was too short, they closed it down later.

Why?
Well, there were only 14 of us children so they closed it down.

What was the village in which you lived like?
A large one, but now there are no houses. None at all.

How many houses were there back then?
Oh, I donít remember it now, but there were many. My village name was Tryczkůw, and the other one, I donít remember the name, we went to school there.

What did Tryczkůw look like?
There was a school, there were shoemaker shops, there were shops, everything was private. There was a post office, but a lot was in the Czech language. The people were all mixed up. All of them Germans, but you needed to know Czech if you wanted to understand something.

Tell me a few words about your family, please.
We had a farm, some land, but when we went away, we left everything behind.

What did your parents do?
They lived off the land. My father also had a job in the sawmill nearby. And my mother looked after the house. I had sisters and brothers, so she had a lot of work.
Section 2
How many brothers and sisters?
Four brothers and two sisters.

What did your everyday life look like?
We were not educated, now you need to, but not back then we went to work. When we were young, we would go blueberry picking, we planted trees in the forest, there were no other jobs to be found. When I was a bit older, I went to work in the kitchen at some other peopleís house, in a town. Later, the Czechs were constructing bunkers, they could feel there was a war coming, so I left that place. I didnít stay at home for too long, though, I went to Mloty. I spent all the war time there.

You mean, you ran away from the war to Mloty, didnít you?
Yes, I did.

How did you know the war was coming?
That was already obvious. When I was at those peopleís, the Czechs were building bunkers, and later, when the Hitler troops were coming, everybody ran away. The Czechs were afraid, left the bunkers, everything, and all the girls went inside.

How old were you when the war broke out?
Well, I was 18 at that time.

What was the life like before the war?
Oh, well, it was quite carefree, it was nice and easy. I had girl friends, it was nice.

What did you like doing?
I liked doing everything. In Mloty, there was a restaurant, holidaymakers came, it was nice. In the peacetime, it was nice, but when the war broke out, we were scared. We locked the door, cause all they were after was vodka. But other than that, it was alright.

How long did you spend in Mloty?
Until 1974. I stayed there that long. And later, they started displacing people. German soldiers were passing by in tanks, and they said, ďGet on and come with us.Ē Via the Czechs to America, I think. We didnít go. Then the Poles came, I got married and I stayed there. Now we had to leave Mloty because of the power station. There are very few people now, everybody got displaced, houses dismantled. Our house is still there. There was this investor, he said to my husband - my late husband was the mayor - he said, ďMr Szmigiel, we will build a power station here, there will be holiday houses.Ē Thereís nothing now, just a ruin, some bushes, everything collapsed, just heaps of stones. Oh! There is nothing. Our house is still there, but itís ruined inside. The roof of it was on fire once, so made a new one, repaired it a bit, but now itís in ruin.

What games do you remember playing when you were young?
Oh, well, there were nice games we played with those Czechs. They played the trumpets very nice, like a proper band. The villages in which I lived was a large one, there were friends. All the girls were looking for some way of earning some money. There were no schools. Nowadays, young people only go to schools, spend their time at the bus stops, smoke cigarettes, nobody knows what for, they make fools of themselves. Itís not the way it used to be. We had to work, we left school, and we had to help in the household. In the summer, there were lots of blueberries, such big ones, you know. Bigger than the ones you have now. We sold those blueberries. I would go barefooted through the streets and sell them. I was afraid the border guards would spill them to the water. Thatís what they did if they caught you. At midnight, barefooted, blueberries on my back. There was this shop in Lasůwka, we sold them there. They never caught me - I think they were asleep. That was the border. It was nice, we would go to the forest, boys and girls, to plant young trees. What were we supposed to do? There was no school - the primary school and that was it. There was only that Czech school.
Section 3
What subjects were you taught at school?
Everything they teach in the primary school, up to the eighth form. And later, I went to that Czech school, I thought I would go, but it was soon closed down.

What did Christmas look like?
It was a very pleasant time. The nearest church was an hourís walk away. The way Christmas was celebrated was different than it is now. My mother cooked pea soup, there was milk and bread rolls, some fish and poppy-seed noodles - you know, you slice the roll, add poppy seed and sugar, boil some milk and pour over it, itís very good. We went to the midnight mass, to confession and to communion.

How about Easter?
We didnít go to church to sanctify the food in basket. The priest had his own stuff, he sanctified that. Neither the Germans or the Czechs do that.

Do you remember any other holiday celebrations?
I do, I certainly do. We celebrated Whitsuntide, Corpus Christi, processions, we had all that. And the Easter water tradition - we didnít have it. You would make a plait from the willow twigs, decorate it with a ribbon, and go to beat the girls. Boys tried to beat the girls, and girls - the boys when they were still asleep. We ran around the room, beating the quilts.

Did you have a boyfriend?
No, I liked only dancing. I went to parties, the Czechs had those beautiful bands. We played, sang and all, no violence or anything, the way it is now. At the beginning, I couldnít even listen to that. When we were still in Mloty, I sometimes went to Wůjtowice, there was a restaurant, they would fight there, shout swear words at each other. I didnít like it, what kind of people are they? We didnít have it, in the Czechs, either. My daughter got married to a Czech, I sometimes go there. What beautiful wedding they had! The band was playing...

When did your relatives leave?
In 1945. For some time they were with some Poles in Gorzanůw. Cause they were running away. When the Czechs came, I wasnít at home, but my mother told me that they came on horsebacks and told them to leave in a few minutes. They didnít know what to take, they left everything. All the Germans went to the bridge in Lasůwka, but the Poles wouldnít take them. So the Czechs said, ďThen weíll be shooting, you jump into the water.Ē
Section 4
Why did they chase them away?
They were chased away like everybody else.

Where did they go?
To East Germany.

Why didnít you leave?
No! I had got married here.

Your husband was Polish, wasnít he?
Yes, a Pole. From the east.

How did you communicate with your husband?
He spoke German, heíd been to Dortmund, in the mine. Then when there was no food, he ran away to France, then he was in some army, in American army, he came to Mloty in a uniform. Thatís how it went.

How did you meet your husband?
There, in Mloty. He came to the farm opposite where I was. Thatís how we met. We lived in Mloty for so long. In 1974, we moved to Lomnica, cause there was an investor. We had to leave first.

What happened during the war?
Nothing happened during the war. It was after the war that things happened. They wanted that power station, they bore holes, made explosions. They changed everything. The house is still there, but the kitchen doesnít even look like a kitchen. There are some pipes, I donít know what they needed them for. Upstairs, they had their offices, but it all burnt down in a fire, such beautiful rooms.

Why did they do it?
Perhaps with a cigarette, I donít know because we were already here. It happened when we were already here.

Why did you have to leave that place?
Well, we had to, the investor displaced people. We were the first to go. The electricity bill collector, Chrusciak, came, and he said there was a house for sale in Lomnica. There was a widow who wanted to sell it. At first, I didnít want to be here - Jesus, how I didnít want to move. It was so nice there, there was a river, crystal clear water. I liked to rinse the laundry in it. And here, Jesus, this water here, cows cried, I didnít want to be here, Iíd got used to the other place. Although the land is flat, there were only mountains. You had to do everything by hand, mowing, raking, you would kill yourself if you saw those mountains. Some mountains they are.
And those vipers. You wouldnít walk in low shoes there, no. There were lots of mushrooms, but there were vipers. One day I was making hay, we kept it in the attic. We had over 9 hectares of land in the mountains. Downhill, we had potatoes; uphill, there was hay. I worked hard all my life. So we were making hay, my children were bigger by that time - Marysia and Irka - and we sent them to the attic to tread on that hay. And something bit her, and she was taken to hospital. It turned out that it was a small viper that we took home with the hay. Later, I went to the place from where we had taken the hay. Jesus, how many small vipers there were. I never wore low shoes. I never met any, though. And Janek once went fishing, there was this small waterfall, he went over some rocks, and there were thorns on a tree branch in the water. He came back home, all scared, and said, ďMother, there is a huge water snake.Ē Awful, but there was nothing like that. Maybe in the mountains but not here. I was scared of it. And when we went blueberry collecting, we would always wear long trousers, high shoes, we never went to the forest wearing light clothes. Vast forests, a lot blueberries, and in Orlica, there were a lot of fish, huge trout.
But the border patrols were standing there and keeping an eye on it. If they caught you, you couldnít go. Yes, my parents had to go and my sister. They were in Lasůwka, and there was a sawmill at the end of the village. They were living there, they took them, somebody had to give them shelter, it was like this war now with those Serbs. And there they were, and my mother told my youngest sister to go and fetch some things. She went through the forest, and through the border. She came into the house, crept by the barn somehow. She said there were only spiders, nobody about the house. And some Czech soldier was going by on horseback. He approached the window. She crouched inside, hid herself. She said, ďI went out, he wasnít there. So I went along the road, near our field as if collecting flowers, and he appeared. I was afraid, what he would do to me - hope he wonít kill me.Ē But he didnít notice her. And my brother once went to fetch the rabbits, they started shooting near Orlica, and one rabbit got into the water. They nearly killed him. The times were hard after the war. I didnít experience that personally, but those who did, those who had to go, it was awful. My sister told me there was a cat left behind, it walked about the household, meowed, was hungry.
Section 5
What happened next with your family?
They stayed in Gorzanůw, then in Zablocie for a while. In Gorzanůw, they were working for the Poles, well, they didnít complain. Next, there were transports and they left.

How did you feel when they were leaving?
It was hard. You know, I couldnít speak, only in Czech.

How did you communicate then?
My husband knew German, so we spoke German, heíd been in Dortmund. Later, I learnt.

How did you feel when your family were leaving?
Oh, Jesus! When they were packing up, going, how I cried! We all had known each other for so many years, I was used to the people in Mloty. And then I saw the transport coming. They were crying as well - they had to leave everything behind, leave. It was hard only to look at. My mother swore, during the war, that those boys were dying so much in the war. Fathers and sons. She swore at Hitler. She said, ďWe will not win.Ē There were lots of spies, too many, too many enemies he had - the whole of the world. If heíd been different, even Poles would have joined him, but he had everyone for an enemy.
When I was a maid, I had to have certificates dating back to generations before, that I was not Jewish. I had to have such papers, but they got lost in the Czechs. It was an order: every girl, every boy, everybody has to have them. If somebody was traced back to a Jew, they were... I had those papers, typewritten, a whole heap of them. About my grandfather, my great-grandfather and on, and on, you know, it was awful.
Section 6
What did they do to people who were Jewish?
There werenít any around. But I heard, they didnít belong to Germany, they were not citizens. My mother arranged for the papers for me in the parish. She said if I ever wanted to get married or anything, I needed them. Like birth certificates. You had to have them.

Tell me something about your school, please.
There were good dinners, the Czechs made an effort. They gave children presents for Christmas. Every year, they did. There are small houses there, but not many. people buy them now as their holiday homes, itís the mushrooms, fish, peace and quiet, the air. But fruit would never ripen there, too cold. Until May, there was always snow lying about. And the church fairs were beautiful there, in the Czechs. The merry-go-round, oh! Later we missed it; we didnít have it in Germany.

What did the church fairs look like?
There was a service in the church, and the whole square was full of it - various things, a fair, stalls, everything. Oh! The hot sausages, Jesus! What wasnít there? Beautiful! Merry-go-rounds and swings for young children. everything was very beautiful, it was always at the end of June. We always went. My mother once wrote me a letter from East Germany: ďWe will never again see those church fairs, we will die here.Ē They were in Freiberg.

Do you remember your first contacts with the Poles?
They came to Mloty.

What impression did they make on you?
I canít say that there was anything wrong about them. I was young, I didnít understand. They were laughing, so I was laughing as well, though I didnít know why.

Apart from you, did any other Germans stay behind in Mloty after the displacement?
No, I was the only one who stayed there. Who else could be there? There was a man, an electrician, he spoke Polish a bit. Either his mother was Polish or his father - I donít remember. They kept him because he understood electricity. When Poles came they didnít know much about it. Later, he moved from Mloty to Nowa Bystrzyca, and then took one of the transports. Other than that, it was only me.

How did the Poles treat you?
Well, I canít complain, I didnít have any problems with anyone, they all liked me.
Section 7
I heard about some groups of looters being active around here.
Oh! I was never interested in that. When the war was over, there was a restaurant, and it was only vodka and vodka, it was all for the Russians. Those Russians had eyes like Mongols. They were drunk all the time, all they were after was vodka. We were scared of them, we stayed about the house all the time, hid if need be, sometimes fought. I didnít see that, only heard about it. We were scared, we went only as far as the field. Once, I saw such a big lorry, all full of instruments. The Russians were taking away trumpets and things. A whole lorry filled with them, I saw it from the hill, it was going via Mloty, to Bystrzyca, I think, and on to Russia. I heard about them taking that away, and I saw them going. It was fully loaded. They took everything away, coal, they took everything to Russia. They took everything away because the war had been lost.

Do you wish you had left then?
Now it is too late for that. I donít think about it.

Why do you regret?
Maybe I would be better off there.

How did you plan your life?
Oh, well. I planned it quite differently. I didnít know which boy to choose, I didnít like this, I didnít like that one. I didnít know myself. Oh, oh, oh! And then there was the war and everything was gone. Iím not bad, I canít complain, but... I know many who left their boys and left, but I had so many children, I stayed. I had quite cheerful plans, nice. Where I will be, what I will be doing. I wanted to go somewhere, to a town, somewhere far away. I had this friend, he went to dancing parties, he went, he went, but...

What happened next?
Nothing. We, girls, all went home from there. And they were building the bunkers, the Czechs did. It looked like the war was approaching. Everybody was talking about it.

What happened in those bunkers?
Nothing, they built them so that they would shoot at the Germans, it was a border after all. My neighbour girl had a Czech, they were sleeping in those bunkers. And she left her home. My mother and father milked their cows, looked after their household. And she went with that Czech man to those bunkers, to sleep there, and she never returned. Sheís dead. All the nations were so mixed, especially later, after the war, the Germans and the Poles. Some got married, stayed behind.

Did you go to those bunkers?
No. I saw them shoot those who were building them. There were so many workers in the village - Jesus Maria! There was so much work there, it was a large village, a nice one, with a restaurant, and shoemakers, and barbers - like a small town. There were so many of them working there building the bunkers. They built them for free. The Czechs ran away, they were scared. When you are young, various thoughts come to your mind. I sometimes think, ďThere was that boy, he wanted to date me.Ē See, in the war, all the boys were taken to the army. You know, there was this large chapel, the road of the cross, a large picture of Jesus, as if for Easter, everything was done so nicely, but the Czechs destroyed everything.
Section 8
Why?
Just like that. They donít go to church. And the Greeks came there. They ploughed everything, made it into a flat field. We used to have a pond, there was a chapel, we had those beautiful birch trees, spruces near the house - thereís nothing now, not a single stone that wouldnít have been upturned. There were those beautiful stairs in the chapel, a large polished stone - thereís nothing, they took everything away. I went there two years ago - the stone was still there, but my brother went there later and the stone was no longer there. They destroyed everything, they donít believe.

How long did it take you to learn Polish?
It was like that: I did eight grades of our primary school. All the subjects the we had to study - but I donít have a single certificate, everything got lost in the Czechs. I didnít take anything with me, everything was left there, all the photographs. And the Germans who were staying there, they stole all that was left. My mother said that that German woman who was living next door used our pasture to graze her cows, and our cows were tied on a dry land. They also took away thing from the home. You know, the way they do after the war.

Did you learn Polish after the war?
Yes, I learnt it much later. It took me a year to learn a bit. I also could read in Czech quite well. I still understand them when they speak but I cannot speak the language any more. I have forgotten it, itís been so many years.

When did you start thinking in Polish?
I heard people speak it, I learned. Now I think in Polish, I read all the papers and books in Polish.

Which language do you pray in?
At home - always in German. At church - in Polish, but itís difficult to understand everything.

How did you do your confessions at first?
There was a priest who spoke German. And when I was in the Czechs, there was also one who understood German.

Who do you now consider yourself to be: a Pole or a German?
Now I am a Pole.

How did you compromise between your traditions and your husbandís?
I did what he said things should look like, for example at Easter. We used to have different customs, at the table and so on. But we did everything the Polish way, the way they did in the east, at his.

So you adopted your husbandís traditions, didnít you?
Yes. Every nation has its own customs. We had different ones, the Czechs had different ones. There was a choir singing in the church, an organ player, and you donít have those here. I donít like it. The priest asking people to work for the church - it was unheard of. Nobody cared about the church. We were women who clean, tidy and decorate the church, I remember that since the time I was a child. Now the priest demands everything. All that was done by the parish, he had his own people. In the Czechs, there was this church choir, the church was so beautiful, itís a pity. The Czechs donít go to church, say five people only, what can he collect from them? Now the priest commutes here, there is no parish, itís been demolished. The church needs renovation, plastering on the outside, but who will give the money? The State wonít.
Section 9
How do you feel when you see those ruins?
Itís a pity, just a pity. I went to the cemetery with Wioletka (her granddaughter), itís all covered with weeds that high. Those bramble bushes, the ones that birds eat, the nettles so high - you could hide in them. And the Czech graves - well attended, tidy. But the ones I know, like my grandfatherís grave, all grey and green from the rain, damaged. And the road? Itís no longer a road, I donít know what it is, you canít walk it. Collapsed graves, headstones, plaques - all overturned. It used to be such a beautiful cemetery. The surrounding wall - all the bricks are now loose. The Czechs donít go to church. I went to my daughter at Christmas, we went to church, we saw a tourist come into the church. God, how beautifully he made the sigh of a cross! I said to my daughter, ďLook, there is a young man from a good Czech family.Ē And the priest looked surprised. He stayed for a while, prayed and left. In our times, the church was so beautiful, so beautiful.

Has a lot changed in the Czechs since you were living there?
A lot. Some houses are no longer there. Our village no longer exists. Where there used to be the parish, there are still some houses, but they are in ruin. In the German times, there was a dentist, there was a sweets shop. A restaurant and a shop are still there. And there was a doctor, and all. Everything has changed, the houses are no longer there, only trees and freshly ploughed field.

Did you teach your children to speak German?
I spoke to them, they spoke both German and Polish. Later, my late husband said, ďDonít speak to them, other children will laugh at them at school, they will speak both languages at the same time and nobody will be able to understand them.Ē So I didnít, but now I wish I had. Thereís money in languages now. You travel in the world, you have to speak languages, Jesus, Maria! This is awful.

You husband was against them learning German?
Yes, he was, but later he regretted it. He went to Germany a few times before he died.

Were your children treated differently because of their origin?
They never said anything. Iíve never heard about it. I heard one person, Luc, he said, ďThe Lomnica teachers discriminated [against?] children.Ē But I donít know, we were not in Lomnica. They were poor, they didnít have clothes to put on. He said, they put on a jacket, a military one probably, cause he didnít have anything else to put on, and the teacher scorned him. His mother was German.

Where did your children go to school?
They all went to Wůjtowice, and then to the town.
Section 10
Would you like the old times to come back again?
Oh! During the war there was nothing good. I was in the Czechs, but I was very young and everything was nice, the way it is for you now. We left school - and we had to work.

Do you feel attached to these mountains here?
Not here in Lomnica. When I went to visit my sister in Germany I was looking for mountains everywhere, I missed them. You see, itís all white, white and blue, and flat, and flat. I was looking for some mountains in Germany, Iím not looking for them here. And when Iím on my way back from there, I feel Iím returning home, returning home.

Do you miss home?
I like Bystrzyca. Bystrzyca was nice also under the Germans. Now there are so many Gypsies, dirty streets. What can you do? They have to live too, they donít bother me. You know, when I was younger, in the Czechs, there were Slovaks as well. They had such a belt, and had everything. They were knocking at peopleís doors selling things. When they came, you could buy various things. They were poor people. They were walking around, they had those small rucksacks, asking for bread.

How were the German homes decorated?
They were nice, not too elegant, we didnít have electricity or anything. Not everywhere did the electricity reach. Who heard about television sets then? Few people had radios, hardly anyone had a car.

And farm work, what did that look like?
It was hard, we didnít have tractors, it wasnít the way it is now. We used oxen, itís hard in the mountains, horses, everything was done by hand, scythes were used for mowing. People thought that was the way it was supposed to be so they thought it was good.

Chronology:
1919 - 1937 - lives in Tryczkůw
1937 - 1974 - lives in Mloty
1974 - moves to Stara Lomnica