Family Life  

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Bystrzyca Klodzka




Franciszek was born in 1931 in Chodaczów Wielki, now in Ukraine. His father was one of four smiths, in a mainly Polish village. During Russian occupation they were “in permanent fear, as the Russians detested us desperately”. In 1941 they were preparing to be taken to Siberia when the Germans entered and they were caught between fighting forces. The interviewer is good at coaxing out small details of the narrator’s childhood, relationships with parents, school, winter conditions etc. The Russians came in ’45 and his father taken into the Polish Army. He describes vividly their preparations for, and uncertain feelings about, resettlement to the west, to this area. They had an endless wait, during which they also had to defend themselves against bands of Ukrainian nationalists. After a long trek they ended up at Stara Lomnica, at a German farm. Czech, Pole and German tried to get along – all poor and in difficult circumstances (the children and youths were more inclined to fight). Nevertheless, this “recovered territory” (recovered for Poland from Germany) was well advanced in terms of quality of housing, roads, electricity etc; in the east they had only mud roads, kerosene, and holes in the roof to let out smoke. (Other narrators mention this difference too.)

His parents still believed they would return to the east (apparently encouraged by propoganda broadcast by “London radio”). This sense of transience continued for a long time: people didn’t repair buildings or invest long-term in their lives/livelihoods. Franciszek finds this mentality hard to understand since they actually had come to better conditions, but feels that many were illiterate and some came from “trashy circles”. He’s been happy here.

detailed breakdown

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Section 1  Describes the village he grew up in, near Tarnopol.
Section 2  Family life. In 1944 war broke out and the Russians invaded.
Section 3  Recalls his childhood and schooldays. Teachers used “corporal punishment for anything”. How obedient and respectful he was towards his parents. But during the war “we did not have any fun. Just poverty and hunger.” Alcoholism was a problem, which got much worse during the “occupation”.
Section 4  Remembers Christmas, “always spent in family circles” with very close family ties. How cold the winters were in the East – “very severe” (-30° C). Recalls the Russian invasion and the fighting – villagers caught in the middle.
Section 5  1945 – they prepare for resettlement. People were sad and anxious. Also coping with general lawlessness and violence. His father was in the Polish army and they kept in touch by letter.
Section 6  The journey west. Reunion with father. People’s disappointment: “At the station in Bystrzyca people saw the rocks (rocky, mountainous soil) and people did not want to get off, they started to shout, to lament: ‘from the black earth they had left on the East, they had come to rocks!’ People did not want to stay here. They said they would not settle.”
Section 7-8  They find shelter with local farmers. Mentions the hostility of some Germans, but at “that time nobody would pay attention to it because we had to live somewhere”. Generally, however, the Poles were friendly towards the Germans, because “my parents knew what poverty was like and realised what it means to be sent away from one’s own home”. Impressed with the German village and infrastructure: “For the first few days, me and my brother were queuing who was to be the first to turn the light off
Section 8  Remembers how the Poles destroyed the German remains, because they heard that “we were to stay there for three or four months and come back to our places in the East” and so “we did not care about anything”. When he learnt that he wouldn’t be returning to the East, he begged his parents to let him go to school.
Section 9  He recalls there were lots of gangs, fighting, and robberies in 45 and 46. The new settlers continued to feel detached from their land and property: “when the roof got damaged on one side, they would move to another part of the building, claiming that was not their own possession so they did not have to feel responsible for the mending”. He found it strange that “those who used to be the poorest in the East wanted to come back most”.
Section 10  There were problems with alcohol, including for his father. He attributes some of the short-termism of the new settlers, and their poor farming practices, to lack of education – many were illiterate and “they did not progress”; “they were reluctant and careless”. However, the move west caused some to “open their eyes” and “the fact of coming here influenced them positively”.