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retired forester




June 1999


According to the interviewer, this “was a very pleasant conversation”. The answers are long and dense with information, history and comment. The narrator says he remembers little of his childhood in Ukraine, although he is interesting about the period of post-war settlement when Poles like him from the east were moved to this region. Mostly, however, he concentrates on the environment and forestry. He believes that nature has “changed for the worse. Definitely. Man interferes too much with nature”. He cites the flood as an example of what happens when the natural equilibrium is disrupted, yet he acknowledges the difficulty of achieving harmony with nature, particularly with reference to his life as a forester. He misses nature greatly since moving to a town. He thinks urban life is “just awful”. But “the forester’s lodge is linked with the job. And because I reached the retirement age, I had to leave”.

His knowledge of nature stems from practical experience and observation, not from books. He stresses the importance of balance: “ …nature it’s like an organism. If you eat too much cooked cabbage, your liver will tell you something’s wrong. If you starve too much, you will feel bad.” A good forester should replace what he cuts down – “as the saying goes, mother cuts as much bread as the children need, and so some is still left. And the same thing has to happen in the forest. There is a rotation - you are allowed to cut down only as much as has grown … Your task is to plant enough, so that there is a balance”. There’s too much interference with nature, like all the coal mining that happened under communism (“coal is not all there is to life”) – and in the end, he asks: where are the profits?

detailed breakdown

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Section 1  Brief history: grew up in the Eastern Borderland, on a farm in a village full of Poles who settled there after World War 1, referred to as the “Piludski’s people”. He was 7 when World War II began. When the Russians invaded, half the village was deported to Siberia. Bronislaw’s family managed to stay. Then the Germans invaded and occupied the area until the spring of 1944. But “Ukrainian gangs” were getting organised and they moved away to relatives.
Section 2-3  Pniaki was burnt to the ground. The family managed to get a train to their mother’s homeland, near Krosno, and stayed there until the Russians invaded. Memories of his childhood home and of nature – mostly oak forests, meadows, white clover and “the river was not regulated, it flowed as it would”. In 1945, the Germans “capitulated” and his family moved to the Opole Silesia region, “because the western land was free for settlement”. He remembers “we had nothing”.
Section 4  Good stories about the early days, searching for food, clothing, anything. Describes assisting the departure of the displaced Germans (“… the thing is, a settler needs to have a vacant place”) and the Silesian Germans who converted in order to get Polish citizenship. The area was full of settlers from many different places, and as his family grew up and married, they have become “scattered around the world”. He was drafted into the army, worked at different jobs
Section 5  Returned to help his father in the farm: “we had 10.5 hectares of land. It was good quality soil, second class. But it didn’t satisfy me. Something was completely wrong”. He disliked all the controls, quotas and taxes. In 1953, he was drafted to the eastern border. Later offered a job as a forester, but the promises made then were not fulfilled: “’mountains of gold, beautiful forester lodges, rifles, all of that free for lifetime, you will not have to pay a penny’” but, he says, “I’m paying. I’m paying for everything now”.
Section 6-7  Attended a school of forestry. “I’ve always been attracted by the forest, by the nature in general”. They had to replant the trees destroyed by the gales of 1956 (“the forest lay down like straw, as if someone turned it all down to the ground”). The forest was neglected and polluted, especially the northern slopes, but is now improved. Talks about changes in land use, development of spruce monoculture and the need for balance and diversification in forestry. The villages deserted by the Germans “used to be quite nice, plaster-covered walls, fences, gates, everything. Nowadays some of them are just awful”.
Section 8-9  The rivers used to be much cleaner, “but … have now been contaminated”. The effects of industrial pollution on the vegetation linger. No-one bothers to collect wild fruits and berries anymore. Hates town life: “you know what I can see here? Walls and walls, debris, plaster falling off … Just awful … concrete everywhere”. But recognises some advantages (easy access for healthcare etc, income opportunities) and that life is hard for those living higher up the mountain.
Section 10-11  Believes that the flood happened because “too much timber is cut down, too little is planted”. The government should ensure that “all of the ground should be covered with forests … we wouldn’t have any calamities then”. Story of how his own actions saved a park with many old oaks from being cut down. He thinks the future lies in agro-tourism, and less control and taxing of local people – or migration will be unstoppable. Says there were uranium deposits in the area; in the past people didn’t stay in the area “for more than four years.”
Section 12  Briefly remembers life in the east, before conversation ends.