GLOSSARY
Poland glossary

Romuald

(POLAND 25)

Sex

male

Age

67

Occupation

pensioner

Location

Klodzko

Date

July 1999

 

transcript

Section 1
Where and when were you born?
I was born on 29 November 1932 in Zyrawa, district of Zydatůw. My parentsí names are Kazimierz and Karolina. The war broke out when I was seven years old, so I was too little a boy to remember much from that period. I remember one night, when the NKWD (Russian Security Service) people came to take us away Ė myself, my mother and my sister. They came to us because my father was a policeman, so he was on the list of potentially dangerous people Ė from the point of view of the Soviet Union. We tried to run away before that, because we knew what was happening to our neighbours Ė disappearing mysteriously. We tried to run away to my uncleís, to another village not far away. But when they eventually came to get us, they wouldnít let us take anything with us. And we had been starving even before that. My sister was four years old, so she was terrified, although I think she was brave anyway. Those people who came to get us were very aggressive, very unpleasant, they shouted at us, made us hurry. We were supposed to leave the home in the clothes we happened to be wearing at the time. But, as I said, we were already expecting them, when the night came, my mother didnít let us go to bed, we were all dressed as if we were just about to leave.
They took us to a railway station, and from there, they took us into the heart of Russia, in cattle trucks. There were a lot of those trucks, a few hundred, I think. The journey took sixty days, in those terrible trucks. Old and young people. Some didnít make it, they died on the way, mainly the old ones. There were no windows in those carriages, so there was no fresh air. We were over twenty in one carriage. It was terribly cold. I once touched a rail with my tongue, and it stuck. The train practically didnít stop at all, there was no way to relieve oneself. The adults finally had this idea to make a hole in the floor, which was used, for those needs. They later made a sort of curtain to ensure minimum of privacy. It was a terrible journey in terrible conditions. We didnít know what day it was, when the day ended and another began. As long as we were together, we were not afraid. We dreaded the moment of arrival, we didnít know what would happen to us, we didnít know if we would be separated, adults from the children or what. After those sixty days, we reached the town of Kotlas, I think the tracks ended there, the train didnít go any further.
From there, they took us in horse-drawn carts to the town of Jasnok. There, we lived in barracks, it was extremely cold. But it was not the cold that was the worst Ė the worst was hunger. When we arrived there, they told us that mother would have to work. They gave us a horse, a beautiful mare. And motherís job was to look after that mare and use it to work. Feeding the animal was the job of the stable keeper. He stole the horse food, and after some time, the mare died. We loved that horse a lot, it was thanks to it that we survived. Mother always called it a dear.
One winter it got so cold that we thought we would die of hunger. Luckily, my sister had a wonderful idea. She loved birds a lot, watched them, talked to them Ė you know, the way children do, she was just four years old. And she had this idea to catch those birds and eat them, cook them, so that we wouldnít die, so that we would survive. And she cut the horseís mane, and she made a sort of a snare from it, or rather a cage. The birds flew into it, we closed the cage and we could use them for food. We had hot soup, which we shared with other people in the barrack. It may sound extremely cruel now, but thanks to those birds we survived, and we could help others. The worst moment was when the horse died. It died of exhaustion, cause it worked a lot and finally died. It wasnít my motherís fault. As I said, it was the only bread winner and it worked for all of us. When that horse died, we dug it out from under the ground and we ate it. Not only us, children, but everyone who was nearby, whoever could get hold of that horse. It was dead, but it was in a good condition. It was as if in a fridge. But because that horse died, my mother went to prison, although it wasnít her fault at all. And she spent three weeks in prison. In the meantime, they took us to an orphanage, myself and my sister. And thatís how I found myself in an orphanage near the town of Syfdykar. And totally different life started there. We went to school there, it was obligatory. That orphanage was originally Polish, but it soon became very international, children from various nations found themselves there.
A very characteristic thing Ė Iíll go back to what kept us alive. My mother was a God-fearing person, and every day after work, she would say a litany to Our Lady. When my mother knelt down to pray, everyone else in the barrack would do likewise, however many they were, and they prayed. I remember that because I knelt as well. And when my mother was taken away, her role was taken over by another lady, and it was continued. And when my mother was released, myself and my sister were in the orphanage. It was quite all right, we had a roof over our heads, a place to sleep. Everything was done on an hour, going to bed, going to school, and three meals a day. You could hardly call it proper food, you had to use your own devices to get something, there were various ways to do so. Additionally, the older group Ė in which I was, cause I was over eight, but not my sister, who was just five then. She belonged to a younger group, and they didnít have to do that, but we did Ė we had to go to the woods and collect timber for fuel for the winter. Each of us had to go to the forest and collect wood so that there was fuel to heat the place in the winter, at least so that we wouldnít freeze to death. The fact of being in the orphanage wasnít that bad, it wasnít tragic. The worst thing was that we couldnít see our mother so often.
Section 2
How many children were there in that orphanage when you and your sister got there?
A hundred and twenty at the beginning, but later only about 60 remained, maybe 65. The others died of hunger, they couldnít stand it. There was a period when we received almost no food at all Ė only 15 decagrams of bread per day. You didnít know what to do with that, whether to eat all of it at once or to divide it into portions and leave some for later. [His wife, listening to the conversations encourages her husband to tell the story of how he stole food]
My sister was of poor health although she was younger. I had to support her. I had a friend, his mother was a nurse looking after the children in the orphanage. Thanks to such connections, I had a possibility of getting into the orphanage store room. In that room, there were food packages from UNRRA (United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration). They got there through Arhangelsk, cause Leningrad was under occupation, and that was the only way for the food transports from the USA to reach us, the UNRRA assistance. There was that narrow hole in the toilet, through which I would slide to the store room upstairs, and I could get something for myself and for my sister. I couldnít give the stuff to my sister during the day cause other children would take it away from her. Therefore, I brought the food at night, and she had to eat it at night. Otherwise, the other children would have liked to know where that was from, and they would have demanded a share. And it was impossible to give something to everyone. You couldnít steal much because they would have found out that the food was missing and there would have been trouble. And managed to do so for quite a long time, and thanks to that we survived, we didnít die. We spent four years in that orphanage.
Section 3
Couldnít you be together with your mother when she was released?
Mother didnít want to take us back cause she had no means of supporting us. The situation was that mother couldnít have us with her. When the feast was over, I mean, when the UNRRA packages were over, I had no chance of supporting my sister. And then I walked out, sometimes I found a frozen potato, some beetroot or some cabbage. That was for myself, and I also gave some to her, but I could do that only at night, as I said before. Later, mother took her away, when she started getting ill. At that time, mother was working in the town of Niuvtcha. I remember that they even had electricity there, in that town. That was something. My sister went with my mother, cause mother was afraid she wouldnít live long in the conditions. She took her and I stayed. And in í44, in May, mother sent me a letter in which she told me to join them because we were probably going to leave Siberia, they were to take us away from there. But there was no possibility for me to get to my mother, there was no-one in the orphanage I could approach and talk to about it. I wanted to talk, but nobody would talk to me. So, at night, I tied four bed-sheets together, my friends helped me get out through the window, and I escaped. On the way, I took a pair of shoes, and later I sold the shoes for two pies. And I reached Syndykar, where there was a river port. And I took such a ship to get to Lutchin, without any money. By the way, Iíll tell you a funny story that happened then.
Without a ticket, without anything, I was waiting at the entry to the ship, I was waiting for them to untie the ropes. The moment they did, I jumped onto the board, it wasnít far from where I was standing. I jumped on, and the guy who was pulling the ropes shouted at me, ďHey, boy, where are you going?Ē I didnít say a word, got inside, didnít pay any attention to the man shouting. There were quite a lot of people inside, I mean those who had bought tickets. And there was a lady, quite a short one, a bit plump, she was wearing a long dress. I got close to her, I was quite short too, and I told her, ďGranny, hide me.Ē She covered me under the skirt, and I remained there, unseen. That guy came there, had a look, mumbled something but he didnít notice me.
The ship was already going rather fast. I went to a cabin, and there was an officer with a boy, approximately my age. We started playing together, talking. I spoke quite good Russian at the time, in the east I had been playing with Ukrainian children, so it was no problem for me. I learnt Russian very quickly. So I approached that officer, he didnít have one arm. Apparently, he had sent his wife to Siberia, to keep her out of harmís way when the Germans were approaching Moscow. We talked for quite a long time, and early in the morning, he dozed off. Just then a ticket inspector came, checked their tickets and asked about mine. I said that my mother had taken the tickets and gone somewhere. He had a look, looked a bit surprised, saluted and went out. The interesting thing was that the boy was having a bread roll with some meat, and I was only swallowing the saliva. Eventually, he gave some to me. I must have been eating it very fast for he said, ďYou must be very hungry.Ē Sure I was hungry. The two pies that I had, I wanted to give them to my mother and my sister. So he gave me some food, and so I reached my destination.
Everyone was getting off, and so did I. I noticed there was a long queue, there were workers standing in it, they had large bowls and they were given some millet porridge. I got into the queue as well, with my bowl, the woman who was distributing the porridge didnít even look who she was giving it to, so she gave me some as well. I went aside, and I quickly ate it, but I was still hungry, so got into the queue one more time. But she wouldnít give me any more. She said I had already had some. She also said that I shouldnít have got any in the first place because I wasnít a worker.
I finally found my mother, and she said, ďSon, what are we going to do now? Iíve got no food here, and most probably we are not going to go anywhere anyway.Ē She was broken down. I felt sort of unwanted, as if I had come there to take away from them what they havenít got even for themselves. There was no other choice for me then to return to the orphanage. But because I had run away from it, there would be a punishment. Especially that in the meantime, I had run away from there before. For example, in 1942, I ran away with four other boys. One of them played mouth organ very well, and the others, I mean us, we were good singers, as a child, I was quite a good singer. And so, we would go to bazaars and play and sing, like those people do now in the market square. And the Russians are very sensitive people. Somewhere deep inside, they are a very good people, nice, helpful and friendly. I mean those living in the area where I was, although the Russians have a rather bad reputation overall. But it was the authorities that were bad there, not the people. Siberia is a very poor area, and those people didnít have much, but the little they had, they gladly shared with others. They remembered the times when there were Orthodox churches, how different the times there were, without those kolkhozes (farm cooperatives) or sovkhozes (state-owned farm cooperatives), and that life was unbearable now. And we would always run away in the summer, and we would wander around, and we would let them catch us for the winter, so that we had a roof over our heads. They would take us back to that orphanage. Obviously, we got reprimanded and punished. There was an extra punishment that we had to undergo. But I was young, I didnít feel much pain. I was a child, I was only eight, nine years old. No, the second time, I was already ten.
What happened to us that would be worth mentioning? Well, at such times we had to avoid places where there were lots of people, like stations, big towns, we walked across fields and near villages, we entered villages for a short time only. And we went so Ė we didnít have any maps or anything. I remember, we once reach a small village, and it was very late in the evening, so we climbed a tree, cause there were a lot of wolves. And at night, when we were sitting on that tree, some wolves left the forest and got very near, under the tree. They sat in a circle, raised their heads and started howling. We were terrified, I was shaking like a leaf. In the morning, the wolves went away cause there was a bakery nearby. We didnít know there was a bakery. The oldest boy from among us, he was fifteen, told us to go there and, if there was any bread, to take it and bring to the others, otherwise we would die of hunger. We hadnít eaten anything for two days then. So we went. I was one of the youngest, so they told me to throw stones in emergency. But when we set off, they told us to go first. So we terrorised the man there, we said there were a lot of us, and we took away a basket of hot bread. We ate so much of that bread that we got stomach problems. Who would normally eat hot bread? Especially when you are so hungry. I thought I would die then. And we spent the next night on that tree as well. After two nights, we left the tree. All of us were ill. It was then that I realised that one will do anything to get some bread. And we had to leave that area because it was already the end of August, and the cold winds started blowing. Itís almost like November here, the winter starts in September in Siberia.
Section 5
Do you remember any special events from your journey by train to Siberia?
The worst thing was I didnít know when one day ended and another started. The windows in the carriage were covered with boards and tin. Only when they opened the carriage did we know what time of day or night it was. It was dark in the carriage practically all the time. Only when you were on the beds, you could see some light coming in through the fissures. Down, on the floor, you could see nothing. Some people were lucky to have some candles.

What did the children do in such a dark carriage?
The children were playing, the way children do. The adults played cards, they prayed a lot. There were only Poles.

Which stage of the displacement was that?
The first one. We left our home town on 10 February. The next stage was in April 1940, and I donít remember when the third one was.

What were your first impressions of Siberia?
In that village of Kotlas, everybody was wearing heavy clothes, it was in the middle of winter, it was cold, frosty. We couldnít communicate with them too well, although the knowledge of the Ukrainian language helped a bit. But with some of them, you couldnít communicate at all.

In which country is your home town now?
It used to be the Soviet Union, now itís Ukraine.

Could you compare the Siberian environment with that of the Sudety Mountains?
The nature is beautiful there, the taiga (Siberian pine forest) is enchanting. The forests are rich in blueberries, there are a lot of mushrooms, too. My sister and I once went mushroom picking, and we picked all the poisonous ones, my sister cooked them because we had been told they were edible. It was at the time when my mother was in prison. So my sister cooked those mushrooms only once, we got so poisoned, I had the fever of over 40 degrees Celsius. And when I was in the orphanage, I had severe pneumonia twice. We didnít go to school only when the temperature dropped below minus 60 degrees Celsius. The trees would crack from the frost, but otherwise it was all quiet. Itís as well there is no wind then, because if there was, nobody would be able to stand it.
There are lots of wolves and bears. We once went to the forest, blueberry picking, and I suddenly heard some cracking noise. I looked in that direction and I saw a huge brown bear standing on its hind legs some 20 metres away from me. You just canít imagine how fast I was running in the opposite direction... But I canít have been hungry, it didnít do any harm to anyone Ė I was there with a friend of mine and his parents. But the nature is really beautiful there, especially the summer. It takes very little time for the nature to bloom and develop, the vegetation period is very short there. Practically, there is only summer and winter. Winter starts in September and lasts until May, and then the summer comes immediately. Well, there are beautiful meadows, forests, a lot of flowers, yellow flowers, various ones. The meadows are as beautiful as you can see in the pictures only. You donít have anything like that around here.
Section 6
What kind of plants grew there?
A lot of yellow flowers, poppies Ė red and blue as well. Generally, everything developed there very quickly. It all started in May, and at the end of May, everything was covered in flowers. And June and July were the most beautiful.

You mentioned going to school in Siberia. Was it a Polish school or a mixed-nationality one?
It was a mixed one, but we were taught only Russian. There even was a period when we were forbidden to speak or pray in Polish in the orphanage, we had to use Russian all the time. But that was at the time when the orphanage became mixed as well, when some of the children had died. They imposed more rigorous rules when they started bringing in other children.
Iíll return to the moment when I reached my mother. I brought those two pies, we divided them, naturally, my mother went to work, and after three days we were notified that we were leaving for Kuban, thatís in the south of Russia. Poland had already been freed, it was 1944, and the Russians didnít want us to go home in such a bad state, almost dying. They were going to feed us a bit, so that we looked properly, so that nobody would think back at home, that we had been starving or anything. And when we got to Kuban, life was like a paradise, compared with Siberia. It is situated on the shores of the Black Sea, there are beautiful towns and villages, lots of wheat, water melons Ė this time there was no shortage of food.
My mother got a job in the mill, and I had those large trousers made, with huge inside pockets. I always went to where there were heaps of grain, filled those pockets, and when I got home, I brought five kilos of wheat. And I did it several times a day, so my mother made flour from it, and then ravioli. So our life there, compared to Siberia, was like heaven. And they did make us gain weight there. I went to both a Polish and a Russian school. The Polish school wasnít compulsory, we had classes on Saturdays and Sundays, after the Russian school, so that we learnt something of Polish as well. When I returned to Poland, I went straight to the fourth form, and I was the best pupil. Then I did the fifth and the sixth in one year, the seventh was done normally. Later, I went to a vocational school, after that, I went to a secondary technical school, I did my maturity exams. It helped me a lot that I had started learning back there. Anyway, I read a lot of Russian and Polish book. Also in Siberia.
Section 7
How did it happen that you found yourself in the Klodzko Valley?
In 1946, when the agreement between the Polish and the Russian governments was signed, they organised transports for us, and they brought us west, to the so called ďrecovered landĒ. At first, we found ourselves in the province of Zielona Gůra, in the town of Zary, to be precise. There was my motherís brother, in Scinawa Zarska, and her other brother, Sznajder was there too. They too had been to Siberia, but one of them joined the army, and his family remained, so we stuck together. In Scinawka, we got a beautiful house, such a tenement house. In the meantime, my father was trying to find us through the Red Cross. He found out we were in Scinawa, and he returned from France to Klodzko, where his family was. From there, he found us, and he brought us here. Itís a pity we left that beautiful house there. It used to belong to some German doctor.

Did Klodzko suffer a lot during World War II, were there a lot of damages when you arrived here?
When we arrived, Klodzko was not considerably damaged. There was that Czeska Street in the old town, now only fragments of it have remained. I think it suffered more during the flood than during the war. It was such an ancient town back then, I liked it from the very beginning.

What was your attitude to the mountainous scenery here, did you like that?
I have always liked diversified scenery, I wouldnít feel well in flatlands. And I feel fine here. Well, and we settled here, started working. After the war, my parents had two more sons, my brothers Andrzej and Adam. When Andrzej was born, I was twenty years old. My mother lived in Bardo for a very long time, with Andrzej. Unfortunately, she died recently.

Do you visit your homeland?
No. I donít miss it at all. I was only eight years old when they deported us, so I hadnít managed to get attached to those places. Before the war, we were moved around quite a lot, cause my dad was a policeman. We stayed for less than three years in one place, so I never acclimatised to any of them, so it didnít make any difference to me where I was.

Did any of your relatives stay in Ukraine?
At the moment, I donít have any close relations there. My wife has Ė in Vilnius, but as far as my family goes, no. I donít even know what happened to all my family belongings, property. We had a large land possession in Drohobycz, there was a large refinery, and my uncle, who now lives in Walbrzych, worked there. No I donít miss those places at all. Although I used to have an aunt in Lvov, and we visited her quite often. I liked that town, it was always merry, there was electricity. Thatís what I remember best Ė it was warm at home when there was electricity.

Is there an event from your childhood that you remember well, that you often come back to, from the period before Siberia?
That was somewhere, not in Zyrawa. I remember there was that Ukrainian man, and he told my mother that she would have to run away with us, cause otherwise they would kill us all, they would come at night and murder us, cause we were on that dayís list. Mother dressed us, put us on a bike, my sister on the frame, myself on the back carrier, and she took us to my uncleís. We were there, at my uncleís, and still they found us, and they deported us by the first transport. I also remember them coming at night, before that warning, and they were looking for weapons. One of them took out a gun and said that if my mother didnít give them the gun that my father had, they would shoot us. My mother told them to search for the gun, but my father only had one, standard issue gun, nothing more than that. He went to the war in í39, so there were no guns at home. One of those Ukrainians said to another not to shoot, cause my father was a good man. They left us alone.
Section 8
Ukraine is often associated with beautiful nature, what are your associations?
Near Truskawiec and Boleslaw, the scenery was beautiful, not only lowlands. The Kuban area were lowlands, but that was a flatland, but it was beautiful. It was always warm, there was hardly any snow in the winter, it only sometimes fell a bit, and then the children had fun. But in March, they took us away from there, first to Opole, and from Opole further on. There was no organisation, everyone got off wherever they liked. We first got off in Swidnica, from Swidnica, we went to Zary, cause we got a message that our relatives were there.

What was the difference between that journey and the one to Siberia?
We were carried in cattle trucks as well, but they always opened the doors when we got to a station, they gave us soup, fresh bread, bread rolls. Even when we were still in Russia, they were trying to help us. So did some of the people in Siberia.

Yes. Could you tell us a few words about the relationships between the Siberian people and those who came there after 1939?
You know, we were in isolation. At first, they treated us very cautiously. You know, they are people who had been deported there for something, and theyíve got this lack of trust in other people. It took time to get to grips with them, before we could communicate or trade with them. One thing that helped us survive, I remember once my mother and I went to sell her wedding ring in exchange for two puds of potatoes Ė one pud is sixteen kilos, so we got over thirty kilos of potatoes, enough food to last us a month. Hunger, cold and diseases were the biggest problems, there were no medicines and no doctors. The war was on, the Germans were approaching Moscow, there was unbelievable poverty. Everyone suffered the poverty, both the people living there and us. The only difference was they had their own ways of coping with that. They knew how to use the spring, how to use the summer. They knew what roots to dry in order to survive the winter. We learnt from them. How could I possibly know that pigweed is edible? But when I saw them preparing it, I learnt how to do it myself.

Do you remember the kind of clothes that the Siberia people wore?
Without those special caps with ear protection that they called valenki, without boots and extra warm coats, you wouldnít stand a chance of surviving. The worst thing was the lice Ė they were everywhere, wherever you looked, they were there. The rooms in which they lived were interesting. They were timber houses, with the gaps filled with moss. They were quite warm. They live in such primitive houses until this day. The most important thing about those houses were the stoves. They cooked in them during the day, and they slept on them at night because they were warm.
Section 9
Do you remember any elements of the Siberian culture?
They are a people that knows how to play. They have those tea makers Ė samovars, tea is called tchai Ė all they need to have fun is a guitar or a mandolin and singing. They donít worry about what tomorrow brings, they live for today, they enjoy every single day. On Sunday they didnít go to work. We, Poles, didnít have much in terms of elegant clothes, but we always tried to put on something clean. But they wore the same clothes every day. Perhaps Iíll tell you something about Christmas. They found it strange that we sang, shared the wafer, lit candles. Instead of Christmas wafer we had bread, there were no wafers. We sat at the table, sang carols, and they asked what kind of holiday it was. The young Siberians didnít know what Christmas was, the older ones said they remembered, that back under the Tsar, they celebrated it as well. On the table, apart from bread Ė as a wafer Ė there were herrings and potatoes. If there were some raviolis, it was considered to be a rich Christmas Eve dinner. In the orphanage, they tried to upkeep those traditions, especially when there were Polish teachers, the supper was better, we got more than just 15 decagrams of bread, some bread rolls. But when the orphanage had been made international, they never banned Christmas Eve dinner, but it was much more modest. We also looked for the first star to appear on the sky, there was a Christmas tree, naturally no presents. Christmas trees were always decorated. The decorations were modest, but they had to be there. Easter was also celebrated but it wasnít as merry as Christmas.

Now, how about the relationships between the original inhabitants of these areas and the settlers after the war?
The original inhabitants, autochthons, have always held and still hold some sort of a grudge against us. As if we were the cause of their co-patriots having to leave their homeland. As if we had not been deported as well. It was all high-level agreements: Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin decided so in Yalta, and we had absolutely no influence over that. My late father often said that Szczecin and Lower Silesia had never been Polish, and never would. You cannot be certain that it will be so, that these areas will always be Polish. Who knows what future brings?
Anyway, Iím not coming back to the east. [added by my narratorís wife]

Do the Siberian deportees of the Klodzko Valley stick together now?
Yes. Iíve got one special friend, Wladyslaw Baran his name is. He experienced a tragedy in Siberia, his father died there and so did his brothers, he was left all alone, and he had to support himself. I was in the orphanage, it was awful there too, but he had to look after himself all alone Ė he was too old to be in the orphanage. He had those life adventures: he was a cart driver of a manager, they got attacked by wolves once, he was often barefooted.

I know you are a member of a Siberian Deportee Association, who founded it?
There was some sort of a meeting in Warszawa, and the result of it was the foundation of the Association. That was in 1991. After that, we received questionnaires, and we submitted them where it was stated they should be submitted. Later, local clubs were founded in individual towns, among others in Klodzko. But first of all, I had to write to Moscow, to certify that I had been there. I had to wait for one and a half years for a reply, but I received papers from Krakow first, certifying that I was deported with my mother. On the basis of that, I received a membership card and I joined the Association. And so did my sister.
Section 10
Perhaps a different type of question now Ė how did you meet your wife?
In hospital. She was in hospital when I came there to visit my sister. They were in the same ward. I noticed such a pretty blonde. And thatís how it started. That was in 1956, we got married the same year. Weíve had four children. All of them have left the home, the youngest one two years ago.

From the time perspective, how do you feel the stay in Siberia influenced your life?
I must say the influence was negative from the point of view of my health. A lot of things donít make any difference to me now Ė I donít care if I have to sleep in bed or on hard boards, if under a quilt or under just a blanket. I can accommodate to any type of situation. Iím not demanding, I donít want to achieve anything. I donít want anything better. Iím glad I have what I have. As far as food goes, I like anything. There is not a single dish that I would dislike, the only thing is there has to be a lot of it. Life in Siberia hardened me. Thanks to it, I respect bread a lot, every single crumb of it. Nothing can get wasted, everything has to be eaten. Now Iím fit to survive in any conditions. If I lack something, there is no problem Ė Iíve got bread and thatís enough. It wasnít necessary, that stay in Siberia. I almost didnít have a childhood, I had to grow up quickly. But, above all, I lost my health Ė in 1957 I was declared disabled of the third category.

Can you compare the living conditions in Ukraine with those of today?
Itís difficult to compare but Iíll try. My dad had a state position. He was a policeman, and who was employed by the state, earned a lot. We were quite well-off then. My mother didnít work, I had a nanny because my parents often went out to parties, balls. It was a short period but I remember it is one of affluence.

Do you blame anyone for your fate?
I donít think you can blame anyone in particular. Apparently, those who stayed behind had a lot of unpleasantness from the Ukrainians as well. And life wasnít funny for the Germans here at first, either. I see it as a strange coincidence that I found myself on the other side of the curtain for some time. Me and my wife often talk about it, and these are the conclusions we reach. My wife doesnít blame anyone, either, sheís also from the east. Perhaps she would like to tell you what it was like.

[Mr. Witekís wife] We had to leave Vilnius because the Russians arrested my father in 1944 for giving shelter to partisans in the cellar of our house, and someone betrayed him. But on the day they came to search for them, there was no-one there. There were partisans the day before, but not on that day. Then they took away five men from our block, and they came to get my dad on New Yearís Eve. If heíd applied for Polish citizenship, they wouldnít have had the right to arrest him, he would have been treated as a foreigner. My dad returned from where no-one returns. It was Godís providence. My father was a deeply religious person, it was in the winter, he had his prayer book in his pocket. When the NKWD people took him for interrogation, he said they hit him in the face, kicked him. They made him empty his pockets, and when he took out a rosary, they started laughing at him, and said mockingly, ďLet your God save you.Ē And my dad: ďPerhaps He will.Ē And one of the Russians hit him on the face. Later, they told him to go outside and he heard them saying that he was supposed to go to Lukishkha prison. Lukishkha was the worst prison in Vilnius. And my dad said he was standing among all the other prisoners, and something inside him said to him, ďGo, man, go.Ē And my dad started descending the stairs slowly, he noticed that the guard went in the opposite direction, he asked some other prisoners if they were going with him Ė they had nothing to lose, no-one ever returned from that prison. And they left quietly, and when they passed a crossroads, they started running. He said later that he was running so fast, he didnít even know when he got home. And we spent the night queuing for the Polish citizenship card. It was a must. When you had a card, they couldnít arrest you. We also travelled in cattle trucks, for two weeks, although it is not that far. My dad often said that it was God who gave him the courage, and that it was Him who told him to run.
Section 11
What did school look like around here after 1945, could you say it was international?
[Back to Mr. Witek] Yes, I think you could. There were very few original inhabitants. Most people were newcomers from various parts of the country, and the level of teaching wasnít high. The teachers were Polish, and Iíve got a feeling they were dedicated to their profession. The winter of 1946/47 was very severe, and our teacher took us to her home to do the material Ė we did two years in one year. There was no fuel in the school, so we went to the teacherís. And nobody ever asked about any money, there were no strikes. Around here, you couldnít feel you had come from the east, but in the region of Poznan, where my wife lived for some time, people called them, ďRussians, RussiansĒ. They thought they were real Poles, and the newcomers from the east were treated as second category of people. You didnít feel that here, the people around here were a mixture. And our children were born here, so nobody can call them any names.

The Malczewski Street housing estate was severely affected by the flood (in 1997), did it affect you as well?
Unfortunately, yes. Weíve got a first floor flat. We had 40 centimetres of water here, so it wasnít such a grave calamity, although it caused a lot of damage. We had to replace the floors, the furniture. We havenít replaced the kitchen furniture because we just cannot afford it.

What were you doing when the flood started?
Earlier, before that happened, we went to see what the situation was near the river. My wife said that we should go back home, cause the water might come to us as well. I said she was panicking unnecessarily. The railways station was already flooded, and we got warnings that the inhabitants of Malczewskiego Street should return to their homes cause the road would be soon impassable. And indeed, we could hardly return. We prepared supper, but hardly had we started when we heard the humming noise of water. The loudspeakers said that water had entered the cellars. On that day my son had bought a new computer, and it was standing on the floor, he had been showing us how it worked. I couldnít even unplug it, it became dark suddenly, Power failure. We unplugged it in the dark and we took the computer to our neighboursí upstairs. My wife rolled up the carpet, it was a new one, and she put it on the table. Naturally, I told her not to panic, the water would never reach that high, and I wouldnít help her. Well, she salvaged it, the rest was damaged Ė other carpets. My wife had bought quilts for our grandchildren, and she kept them on the balcony. They got soaked and we had to throw them away, too. A lot of books were damaged, including my sonís, from the university library, he was still a student then. We lost all our stocks kept in the cellar. I was calm, but my wife wasnít, and she had a heart attack during the flood. The water went up so fast, you couldnít even call a doctor.
Section 12
How do you perceive that flood, was it a punishment from God, or was it a natural phenomenon?
I would say it was a natural phenomenon. Although that flood, like many other things, had been predicted, so there must be something to it. But I approached it calmly, and it was my experience from Siberia that helped me. I approach everything calmly. The interesting thing was how animals felt it was coming. A few minutes before the levees broke, all cats ran up trees, the old cats, because the young ones couldnít. My next door neighbour is a doctor, and he was sleeping during the flood. I couldnít wake him up. They broke his balcony window and took him out that way because it was too late to use the door. He had a dog, and that dog was very aggressive. It wouldnít let anyone approach it, but then, it was like a lamb. And it was all so quiet, unbelievable. The telephones didnít work, there was no power, no light Ė only darkness and silence. My wife had to take nitroglycerine every half an hour.

How long did it take you to renovate your flat?
Over half a year. Although it was only 40 cm of water, but the damages were grave. We had to wait for it all to dry up, we had to remove the old plastering. When we painted it for the first time, the walls soon became yellow, so we had to do it again.

What did you do when you graduated from school?
After graduating from the electrical school, I got a job in electro-energetic industry. There I worked for 40 years. I never changed my job, now Iím a pensioner.

Do your grandchildren like listening to your stories about Siberia?
Immensely. Weíve got nine grandchildren. They canít believe I ate pig weed or nettles. How does it taste? they say. We didnít have fruits there, neither did we have milk. Itís very easy to talk, certainly itís very interesting, but it was quite a different thing to go through it Ė it was like hell. Now I can relax in my garden, although I donít like gardening. I go there cause my wife cannot manage to do everything on her own, I go there for the recreation Ė birds sing, weíve got a very nice garden, with a shed, electricity and running water Ė just like home. It was my wifeís dream to have a garden. There are no plantations there, only strawberries, some onions and lettuce. We used to have a small green house with tomatoes, but there was hail and destroyed it, so we will have to liquidate it.

Would you like to add anything to finish our conversation?
My wife and I lead a quiet, peaceful life. My wife retired three years ago. She changed her jobs a few times, for ten years she was the Registrar at the Town Registry Office, she married people, later she worked at the Tax Office. And because she never belonged to the party, and I sang in the church choir, the authorities didnít like it, so she had to resign. My wife wouldnít have minded if her successor had higher education or something. Her only advantage was that she belonged to the party. If somebody offered me to go to my homeland, to see what it looks like now, I would go gladly. My aunt died there, she was a very good woman. I remember her funeral, they made a box of boards, stuck a cross into the ground and that was it. I donít think anyone is looking after it now. Well, I donít know, and thatís why I would like to go there and see what it was like then and what it is like now. There was just taiga around us. Far from anywhere civilised. Iím very curious what it looks like now.
Section 13
Thank you for the conversation.