Poland glossary












July 1999



Section 1
Elzbieta was born on 8 April 1925. Not long after the end of World War II, in 1945, Germans were displaced from the western territories “recovered” for Poland. Elzbieta Komaniecka is one of the few Germans who stayed behind. Our interview her gave us the opportunity to paint a closer picture of real life during and after the war.

Why did you stay here?
That was fate. I wanted to stay because I had met a handsome Pole - Franciszek Komaniecki - and I fell in love with him.

How did your relatives react to your decision to stay? Were they against, or did they come to terms with it immediately?
At first, my parents didn’t like the idea. All my family left for the former East Germany, to Spremberg, to be precise, and I stayed in Voigtsdorf, that is Wójtowice now, surrounded by Poles – [who were] churlish towards me. On the other hand, [my family] were proud of me, that I dared to stay here with Franek, that I was able to make such a sacrifice in the name of love.
At first, we couldn’t see each other - I couldn’t go there, they couldn’t come here. Polish authorities wouldn’t allow that to happen. Only in 1961, we started visiting each other. Since then, I visited them at least twice a year. My brothers with the parents - Marta and Franciszek Brauner - also visited me, but those meetings couldn’t be as frequent as we would like them to be because we couldn’t afford the journey. We saw each other mostly at Christmas and Easter.

What are your recollections of the year 1945? What did the cultural life look like at that time?
There were no theatres, no cinemas. Even if there were some in larger towns - but that happened rather seldom - we couldn’t afford such pleasures.

What did the education system look like at that time?
When I was six, i.e. in 1931, I went to primary school in Wójtowice, and I finished it after eight years, in 1939. As you know, schools were free and, naturally, all children had to go. All the lessons were in German. Come to think of it, there were huge differences between the education system during the war and the modern one. It was much easier to study at that time, there weren’t so many books, the subjects taught were fewer, too. And the history was shorter... Anna Karenina by Dostoyevsky was the first book I read in Polish.
Section 2
Where did you get your everyday supplies, like food, hygiene products...
There was one shop in Wójtowice. You could do proper shopping there, but we couldn’t afford it. We were leading a rather modest life. Harsh conditions made us unable to afford to buy everything in the shops, so I was running a garden and a farm, in which my husband was involved too.

What did you do in your free time? How did you spend your holidays, did you travel with your family, did you have dinners together...?
Nothing of that sort. We couldn’t afford travelling, and we never had time for such dinners. For example, together with my brothers, we would go to the forest collecting blueberries, raspberries and brambles, in order to earn money for winter shoes. Because I had seven brothers, my parents found it hard to support us, so we had to manage somehow. Because I was a very weak child, I was once sent on a school trip to Silesia, to Mikulczyce to be precise. I spent four weeks there, at the Gawlik family, who didn’t have children, so they received me as if I were their own daughter.
Young people had next to no time to meet together. In the morning, we were at school, and immediately after we came back home, we had to do the homework before it got dark. Winters were difficult that way, cause it would get dark as early as four o’clock. We used candles or kerosene lamps to light the rooms. Only later did we get some carbide (?) from the paper factory, so it was much lighter in the room. But it had a very nasty smell.

What could you say about your attitude towards the church?
Naturally, I’m Christian. As far as I remember, there’s always been a church in Wójtowice. There were three villages belonging to one parish - Huta, Mloty and Wójtowice. Not far from the church, there was the presbytery in which the parish priest lived. In the German times, the services were held mostly in Latin. I must say I belonged to the church choir. When the Germans got displaced and the Poles arrived, the services were in Polish.
After the church, men usually went to the nearby restaurant, to have a beer. This custom ceased to exist when the Poles arrived here. With the arrival of Poles, I didn’t have a possibility of going to church - I was not well seen there, I was called names, spat at, and my husband could not always defend me cause he wouldn’t get into conflict with the Poles.

How did you communicate with the Poles?
German was totally forbidden here, so I had to learn Polish by myself. It was easier for me when my children went to school, I sat with them learning to read and write from their books. Counting is the same. I couldn’t teach my children my mother tongue although I wanted to very much. It was forbidden and that could bring punishment on both them and myself. Besides, if they’d happened to say something in German, the Polish children might have treated them badly.

What German traditions did you retain in your life, what Polish traditions did you introduce into it?
When I’d married Franek, we lived in accordance with the Polish traditions, I simply cooked the way he told me to. At first, we often went to visit his relatives in Niedzwiednik, so I could learn a lot from them, especially Christmas dishes. Apart from that, I prepared dishes according to my mother’s recipes, for example, poppy-seed cakes - different from the Polish ones, cause they were not wrapped up but made flat, in a flat tin on to which poppy seeds were put and covered with the top layer of dough. If you’re asking about my childhood, I don’t remember what was served at Christmas Eve dinner table. The only thing I know is that in Germany, we didn’t have such periods of Lent as they do in Poland.
In Germany, every girl who finished eight years of the primary school had to work for the state for the period of one year without any salaries. I was sent to Huta, where I worked as a waitress in a restaurant. I received meals, but I had to work. Straight from there, I went to Bystrzyca, where Klein has got a shop now. There I spent the whole of the war. I had to cook. I didn’t have to clean as there was a cleaning lady. Because I worked there every day and commuting to Bystrzyca was too expensive, I was living in a room upstairs from the shop. In this way I earned and saved some money in the bank, so that I would have some for the future, but when the Poles arrived, everything was lost, I didn’t get a penny.
Section 3
Who did you prefer to live among, the Germans or the Poles?
When I was with my own folk, I liked it. I felt bad with the Poles at first, but I got used to them after some time.

How did the Poles treat you as a German? How were you received here?
Awfully. Nothing to talk about, really. They didn’t receive me at all, they treated me in the worst possible way. The same with Franciszek, although he was a Pole, he had to defend himself. People couldn’t understand how he could marry a German. However, in time, people got quiet (calmed down) about it, and my son Zbyszek, when he grew up, he took my side. It was quite dangerous, I couldn’t even go to church. Zbyszek couldn’t go to school for some time, either.
I remember that idiot woman who’s shouting right now, wrote a paper in which she said that I called everyone around here “Polish swine”, then she made everyone in Wójtowice sign it. I haven’t seen that letter personally, but old Gibkowa, the late Stefan Gibek’s mother, saw it. She couldn’t write, so she put three crosses on that letter. The one who wrote it, that is Zelichowska, signed it. Later, the police came and asked people if I’d really called them names. The same day Stefan came uphill here, and he told me that the police had been asking about me. I said, why, what did I do? and he said, you will see. Well, and they controlled everything, and then they went to old Gibkowa, and it turned out that her name was on the list although she couldn’t write. They decided to go Trypka with that. Trypka was Zbyszek’s teacher - he was seven years old at that time. They asked him why the boy was not going to school. Luckily, Trypko said that he couldn’t go to school because he was beaten and spat at. He was one of the people - and his wife as well - who were on our side.
People were really terrible, especially to Zbyszek and Grazyna. Everyone bullied them. I told my children never to fight, and Zbyszek came back home every day crying because he couldn’t defend himself when they were spitting at him. Grazyna was different, she wouldn’t let others bully her, she fought other boys. I remember when Wladek Niemiec tore her earring out. It was in the winter time, near Korbuciak’s house. She was so scared that she didn’t come home for help, but to Baranikowa, her godmother. She took a torch and they went to look for it, and they found it. She also fought Heniek Sebzda and Marek Palus. The girl had a strong personality, she always did what she thought was right. Besides, she had to defend herself somehow. Even I told her, “Grazyna, don’t let them do you no harm, fight them.” I showed her how to make a fist and hit into the nose until it bleeds. Marek Palus was the most notorious in bullying her, and finally she caught him and she beat him so much that he finally left her alone. The only people around who accepted us from the beginning, and on whom we could always count were the Baraniks and the Gibeks. Other than that, we didn’t have any contact with anyone else.
Section 4
Did you wish you hadn’t stayed? Did you miss home?
Of course, I did. I quite often thought about joining my family and staying there, but Franek wouldn’t let me. My parent kept telling me to come to them, they said I would get a flat, we would be together. Still, my husband said he wanted to be here, because here he was somebody, and there, he would be nothing. And when the children were born, there was no chance of leaving.

Could you tell us a few words about your husband?
After the war I married Franciszek Komaniecki - a wonderful man, who unfortunately, died four years ago. He was a miller by profession. The room we are sitting in now used to be a mill. I remember the noise making (made by the) wheels and machines. He came here from Galitia together with his family: mother, brother and two sisters. They lived in Niedzwiednik, and he was with me. They accepted me immediately.
Our wedding took place here, at home, but it was only a civil wedding, we didn’t have a church wedding at all. It was a modest and quiet ceremony, even my parents were not present. I didn’t even have a special dress for my wedding, I was wearing my usual clothes. The Registry Office was in Stara Bystrzyca, where we went on bicycles. Similarly, during the First Holy Communion of Zbyszek, there were no celebrations after we’d returned from the church. However, when Grazyna went to her First Communion, it was a bit different. There were even a few guests, for example, uncle Karol, who was her godfather, Mrs Baranik, Aunt Rózia, who’s dead now, and Danka.

Can you tell us a few words about your children?
I’ve got two children, Zbyszek and Grazyna. My son was born at home, the daughter in hospital in Bystrzyca. They went to school in Wójtowice, where there is now the hostel run by the Stolarskis. I went to the same school as them only for one year, because earlier, the school was where Wladek Sebzda now lives. After the primary school, Zbyszek went to the secondary school for one year because he hadn’t been accepted to the mechanical school in Wilkanów - you had to be 15 to get there. He didn’t want to go to that secondary school, but we had to send him there. If he’d stayed at home for a year, he would have forgotten everything. After a year, he went to Wilkanów, to the vocational school, to become a driver and a mechanic. He graduated from that school in 1968, and he was immediately drafted to the army. After the army service, he went to work in OTL (?), where he is until this day.
Grazyna finished her primary school and went to the secondary comprehensive school in Ladek because she hadn’t been accepted in Bystrzyca. Originally, she wanted to go the medical school in Klodzko, together with a friend of hers, Teresa Midura, but she wasn’t accepted there, so she had to go to Ladek as there was no other choice. After four years spent there, she was trying to get in to a geodesic school in Wroclaw. She got there, she studied for two years. After she graduated, she got a job in Bystrzyca as a geodesist.
Section 5
What year did you remain as the only German here?
I have been the only one since 1947. Until that time, my parents were living with me; my father was the only person around who knew how to sharpen saws. Only as late as on 17 July 1947, they found a replacement for him and he could leave.

Do you consider yourself more to be a Pole or a German?
I’m a Polish citizen, but my nationality is German. Now I know I’m Polish, but I’d rather consider myself to be German. Luckily, I’ve got a right to live both here and there, I could move there at any moment, but now it’s too late, there’s no place for me... [weeps].

When did you start thinking, praying and behaving as a Pole?
It came with time, it’s difficult to say when. From the very beginning, I was trying to hide the fact that I was German. I had to behave like a Pole, otherwise it would have been too dangerous for me. Especially when my children were born, I had to be careful about how I behave. I wanted very much that my children should speak German, but it was impossible to teach them. At that time that language was forbidden. The worst thing would have happened if they had started speaking German in the street. I would have been in deep trouble then. At first, I couldn’t speak Polish at all so I didn’t go out. I didn’t go to the shop, to church, simply nowhere. We had almost all the groceries from our farm, for example fruit, vegetables, milk, butter, cheese. The only thing my husband had to go to the shop for was bread.
At a certain point, together with my husband, we were running a huge farm. Our land reached as far as the Radziewicz household. We had such a huge garden, where I tended the flower beds. We had some livestock as well, cows, sheep, calves grazing in the meadows. Near the house, there were chickens, ducks, geese, dogs, cats and pig in the pigsty. In ‘49 we had a horse, which I loved a lot. That year, my husband gave up his job as a miller, and he became a postman. He had to change the job because people were not sowing so much grain as they had earlier. Poles didn’t sow grain at all -because it was hard work. Next, he became a milkman, he collected milk which people brought as far as Huta, where Polit has a garage now. In time, we got more accepted, and Franek became the mayor. As for me, I looked after the household all that time. It often happened that if I was going through the village, people would talk about me behind my back, they laughed at me, spat at me. I didn’t care about it, I went on and did my work.

What did your parents do?
My father worked in a sawmill, and my mother didn’t have a job - she went to farmers to help, for which she’d get potatoes, grain and other things. My mother kept pigs, hens and ducks.
My parents had seven children, six boys and myself, I was the only girl. Ours was a very poor household. Father was the only breadwinner. What I remember best is what my home looked like, it was very modest, but tidy. Everything was in order. Being the only women about the household, my mother and myself, we always made an effort for our men to feel well in the home. It wasn’t a big house. There was a large kitchen on the ground floor, and two rooms upstairs. When I was already earning money, I bought a wardrobe for one of the rooms, and a bed. Up ‘till that time, I had slept with everyone else in the other room. The kitchen was the only room that was heated. The rooms upstairs were always cold. We would always put a hot water bottle under the quilt before going to bed, which made it possible to fall asleep, but when we woke up in the morning, the quilt was frozen. When the Poles arrived, our house was dismantled and all the things stolen from it. Until this day nobody knows what happened to it.
Section 6
Do you remember your first date?
Ooooooh, no!!!!! Franciszek was the first real man in my life. Certainly, I had boy-friends before, but they were just friends. Besides, it was a wartime, so there were no boys around. I had to work anyway, so I didn’t have time for any rendezvous. Well, you would pick up some army men, but they were not proper dates.

How did you meet your husband?
After the war, Franek moved into the house in which I now live, together with children and their grandchildren. Because he was a miller, he needed someone to help, and he saw my brother was at home, so he employed him. And in time, Walter - that’s my brother - he brought him to our home from time to time. I remember he once went to buy me flowers, and he returned with a bouquet consisting of two flowers, not knowing that the number of flowers should be odd.

Did you have a radio, a television set, a motorbike?
A radio - certainly, we did have a radio. In 1961 we bought our first Alladyn television set. I still have got both of them. If I’m not mistaken, they are in the veranda. There was just one television channel, it was in Polish. Until 1954, there was only direct current here, only later, they set up the electricity lines. I still remember the iron with a flat heater. The first radios ran on batteries. We listen mostly to the news.

What games do you remember playing when you were a child?
As children, we always played in the fields, our favourite game was hide-and-seek. I remember, when there was hay-making season, we would hide in the heaps of hay. We also rode bikes, and had bruised knees because of that. Sometimes we managed to beg our granddad to let us ride the bike he used to commute to work. The best thing was in wintertime, when we went sleighing until late at night. I had a few dolls made from rags, but I preferred spending my free time with my grandmother, who taught me to embroider and knit.

Do you remember any calamities from those years?
Yes, when I was three or four years old, there was a huge cloud-burst - everything was totally destroyed, the water uprooted trees, which were lying on the roads. Our village road, although it never was in a good condition, looked even worse then. Everything was ruined. Our household got flooded as well. I remember us all sitting upstairs because everything was covered in water downstairs. That was in 1928. Some other time, during similar heavy rains, my son Zbyszek fell into the river, which at that time was so deep that only his head stuck out of the water. Some other time, when Zbyszek and Piotrek Trypko were fishing, Grazyna was standing on the bridge and leaning out so far that she fell, but luckily, she fell on Piotrek and nothing happened to her. As far as fires go, they happened quite often around here, but that was nothing serious.
Section 7
Did you have any cigarette or alcohol problems?
Well, they were available in the shops. I have never smoked in my life, and as far as alcohol goes, only when Franek brought his friends, they played cards and drank, throwing cigarette ends on the floor. I always shouted at Zbyszek because when he got up in the morning, he ate them. But comparing those times with now, I must say, there is more promiscuity nowadays. All we had was to work. I didn’t go to parties, there were no dancing parties during the war; only later Franek took me to some parties.

How did you dress?
When I was going somewhere, I was wearing a skirt, but at home, I wore trousers. Who ever saw trousers in the street back then? Only when Grazyna was in the secondary school did she start wearing trousers, but that was the 1970s.