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Bystrzyca Klodzka


July 1999


A comparatively short interview, but a good account of life on the eastern borderland (in what is now Byelorussia) before the Russians invaded in 1940, and subsequent deportation to Siberia, studied with personal detail. The narrator feels her “childhood was carefree” until it “was broken by the news about the Nazi German invasion of Poland on 1st September 1939. Nobody could predict the mayhem that would commence in my and my family’s life … It’s difficult to describe what we went through”.

She describes the despair they felt in Siberia: “for over six years that we spent there, we lived in constant stress and helplessness, with little hope to be able to survive and come back to our beloved country. Thinking about coming back to Poland was the realm of dreams, and you couldn’t be sure it would ever happen”. Although the narrator remembers many difficult things from her time there, the most pervasive is a constant fear of hunger (“at home, if there’s just a small piece left, I panic that there is no bread. It is terrible for me”). She also talks briefly about her disbelief and pleasure at first seeing the local mountains when she was resettled there after the war, and how she wouldn’t live anywhere else than in the mountains (“I like the scenery. Wherever I look there are those beautiful mountains, those streams. I don’t like the flatlands. Maybe it’s because back there, in Siberia, there were those terrible flatlands. I could see a kolkhoz, which was 20 km away. No, absolutely, I wouldn’t like to live in flatlands, they bring back unnecessary memories”).

detailed breakdown

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Section 1-2  Early history: Born in Nieswierz, her father was in the army, and they were later transferred to Lan, on the soviet border. Describes a relatively well off existence, with holidays and good schooling.
Section 3  The day that Russians invaded (“its difficult to describe what we went through … we were crushed, helpless and far from the closest relatives, an easy prey for the local police and NKWD”). Her father was arrested and the family taken by rail to a kolkhoz (work camp) in northern Kazakhstan. “There, we were as if put on exhibition, people living there came to watch what they thought were the worst enemies of socialism.”
Section 4  Her time there installed a terrible fear of ever being hungry again (“there was no bread, we would eat pigweed, we ate sorrel, nettles…”) so that “until this day, I always carry a piece of bread with me, even if I go to the theatre …”.
Section 5-6  She found it difficult to get accustomed to Siberian winters, remembering them as “just terrible … the temperature dropped well below –50 degrees Centigrade … if you poured water into the air, it would fall down as ice”. Her father was murdered at Katyn. There were Ukrainians, Russians, Moldovians, Kyrgyzs, Chechens and Tatars in Siberia and “people helped each other a lot. Kyrgyzs liked Poles very much”. But her overriding memory was of a “terrible nightmare, I saw people who were close to me die in winter … all the corpses were just thrown out without burial”. Says simply “I lost my childhood.” 1946: return to Poland, enforced quarantine, and the repatriation arrangements.
Section 7  They moved to Bystrzyca, where she has remained “until this day”. Her first impressions of the mountains: “I was shocked. I found the mountains so beautiful”. She explains she was forced to join the atheist ZMP organisation at her boarding school or she would have been expelled. The school, initially supported by UNRRA, was good. Then UNRRA “gave us up” and shortages began. “But [it] was for the idea, for Poland, so young people were enthusiastic about the reconstruction efforts.”
Section 8  She never wants to live in flatlands again: “back there, in Siberia, there were those terrible flatlands …[and] … they bring back unnecessary memories.”