Poland glossary








shop assistant, pensioner




July 1999



Section 1
Could you introduce yourself, please?
Well, I am Irena Lamasz. I live in Wilkanów. Since the flood I have been living in a detached house that I was granted from the state.

How long have you been living in Wilkanów?
Since 1947.

Where did you live before 1947?
In Zadebce, in Chrubieszów.

I would like to talk to you about the flood. What were you doing when it began? What did you do during the flood?
Well, to be exact, we did not see the disaster as such. We were all taken to Bystrzyca. On Sunday night, before 2am the Fire Brigade was circling and collecting people. They told us... the dam was going to break in Miedzygórze (the nearby village). Who was brave enough, decided to stay, but most of us were scared, so we went to Bystrzyca. The coaches took people to Bystrzyca, but we went in our own car. We slept in the cars that night. On Monday we did not return home. The only person to come back was my husband. He went down to Wilkanów to feed the cattle, as they stayed in the barn. We went to our daughter to the village Niedzwiedna. We stayed there by day, but then the water in the river began to rise so we all went to Bystrzyca. We spent the night at our cousins’, we slept there. In the morning my father-in-law decided to go home. Even though we tried to discourage him, he was so determined to go, that I went with him. We were walking to Idzików (village). On our way we met some people escaping from Idzików. They told us that our house had fallen down already. When we reached the place, we met our neighbours who decided to stay. They told us that they saw our house fall at five o’clock in the morning. When we came to see it, there was only a half of it hanging on the slope. The next day it fell down as well.

Did you expect anything? Had you heard any information or warnings about the flood before it began?
No, there was not enough time. When on Sunday night the first sheds got damaged, everybody was afraid. We did not hear any official warnings. Just in Bystrzyca it was said that the dam was going to break.

Did you want to leave your properties? As far as I know, some decided to stay.
Some people stayed but I do not know who. When the Fire Brigade arrived and made us take anything we found necessary and leave, we got so panicked, that we left everything as it was and we left. Even the cows and pigs remained closed.
Section 2
When you came back, were the animals still alive?
Fortunately, yes. The river took our house, as it was standing just beside the road. The river tore a hole in the street surface thus making a slope. Our house fell into that slope. The backyard and the barn remained almost untouched. There was hardly any water there.

What did you try to save when you were leaving for Bystrzyca? How were you evacuated?
Nothing. It was as follows: I came back from my singing, I sing in the local choir. That day we had the performance in Stolec, a village near Zabkowice. At six we were coming back from Stolec through the other villages: Trzebieszowice, Oldrzychowice and we saw water floating down the streets. The bus driver had troubles with driving. We arrived home. Our house was located on the hill. The river was below. We were not afraid of anything. It was raining heavily, but, we went to our beds in the evening, as usual. I and my husband slept upstairs, my daughter with her husband and children, too. The windows were open at night. It was half past one when we heard the siren and the warning that there was a danger of the dam break, and that if we wanted to survive we should be ready for evacuation within half an hour. We did not have time to think what to take with us. To make things worse, a few minutes after that announcement, the light went off. In all that confusion, my daughter woke her children up, they started crying, they got shocked. I remember, we could not even find a candle in the darkness. I do not know why: because of the fear or something... We did not care what to put on ourselves. We took whatever one was able to reach. In a moment, a neighbour from the other side of the river with her granddaughter appeared. She said her house had all been already flooded.
So we realised there was no time to hesitate. We took whatever... and... We could have come back the next day because the water went down a little, the house was still standing, since you know, on the first day nothing... But, somehow, each of us was afraid that the dam might have broken any moment. We were so afraid of such a possibility that we let all our properties sink. We did not want to risk coming back there to fetch our things.

So, did it all sink?
Oh yes, everything. All of us lost everything. My daughter was the most lucky one. She with her husband and children lived upstairs. My second son – the same. In the morning, when half of the house was still standing, they were able to reach some clothes from the wardrobe with the hook. But as for us and our father-in-law, we remained as we stood. The water took everything.

How did you manage afterwards? Where did you take the clothes from?
Right on the first day the neighbours gathered and they helped us take out the things, which left upstairs, in the part of the house, which was still hanging on the edge of the slope. Then, a neighbour of ours, who since then has become a close friend, took us to her place. The next day my cousins from Kedzierzyn appeared. They learnt from TV news what had happened. They had problems to get here. They brought some clothes. So first, we stayed at the neighbour’s with nothing to put on (the neighbour is a tiny person), without water, without light... We just sat there dull and depressed. I did not even think of my sister, my father - the old man, who stayed a few houses further. After three days I decided to go to the place where our house stood. The local inhabitants knew what happened to whom and they helped each other how they could. I went to my sister’s house, which stood right by the river. When the flood began, she left to another sister, who lived in Bystrzyca. In that house I changed my clothes: my sister is more or less the same build as I. Then, as I said, my distant family, from other parts of Poland, kept coming and bringing whatever they could. Then, we were given the ‘flood victim assistance’ (clothes and other necessary things from the State). In this way, slowly, slowly, we were able to collect the most necessary things. If such a disaster happened nowadays, people would not react so spontaneously.
Section 3
Do they decide to stay? Do they know what to do?
Well, now we believe that the dam has been improved, strengthened, so... But whenever it starts to rain, the elderly inhabitants, or those who are more sensitive, become to be afraid. As far as me and my family are concerned, we are the sort of people who would not cry. What for? It would not help. We were happy to be alive. We realised that if the dam had broken there, in Wilkanów, nobody would have survived.

How did you cope with the lack of water? You did not have drinking water. Was it delivered to you?
The water was delivered to this place, to the place where we live. This fragment of the street [she points to the place outside the window] was all torn out. So this was the point until which the cars and lorries were able to get. Even if they needed to transport some goods to the shop where I worked, which is in the upper part of Wilkanów, they had to stop here. As for the water, on the first days when we stayed at the neighbour’s, which was the area of the former PGR (State Farms), we took water from there. We did not care whether it was poisoned or polluted. We boiled and drank it.

How long did you stay at your neighbour’s house?
For two months.

Were you moved to the new house right after that?
No, we were not. We stayed there for two months. Then, my daughter moved to her own place. She had a new house being built. It only had walls, doors, windows and central heating. They quickly went to Bystrzyca, bought some materials and made the floors thus making the house possible to move in. They took my father-in-law with them. We still stayed with the neighbour, but it was very inconvenient for both sides. The house was very little: only two rooms and the kitchen. What remained of our properties was a little shed. I whitewashed it as quickly as it was possible, and we treated it as our house for some time. We cooked there... in that shed... until December, when we moved into a new house.

Were the houses granted from the State funds?
Yes, it was the gift from the Government. During the construction works I used to feed the workmen. We enjoyed the works together. We are really satisfied with the quality of our house. This is the best type of all those granted. The others showed us theirs, and some are rather second-rate. This one is very good: no moisture, etc.
Section 4
Your father-in-law said that when he heard the alarm he thought it was a fire. What was your first thought?
My father-in-law is an elderly man, he cannot hear very well. Besides, he slept downstairs. When he was woken up by the siren, he thought there was a fire. We slept upstairs with the windows open wide: it was July. In the house next to ours, a policeman named Bors lived. All the police cars and fire brigade gathered at his backyard. There was a lot of light, confusion , they shouted into the loudspeakers: ‘Please get ready for the evacuation! There is a danger of the dam break!’ The policeman’s children were standing outside his house, they were completely dressed, ready for evacuation. So it was obvious for us what was going on.

What did you begin rebuilding your house with?
We began with demolishing the remains completely. We took to pieces the part which was torn out. We bricked up the part beside the road so that it would not look awful. Fortunately, the house was insured, so we were able to regain some funds. It was 40 thousand. Then, the Mayor of Bystrzyca organised a meeting with the flood victims and he informed us that those of us who decide to have the new buildings constructed, would be given some 25,000 zlotys. We decided not to hesitate but begin at once. Right after the flood, we were able to buy some building materials at a reduced price. It demanded a lot of effort to make all the necessary arrangements, but fortunately, we managed to have everything bought till December. We received from Germany additional 19,000 DM, which equals 20 thousand zlotys. All we collected was 950,000 zlotys, and, we had to begin construction right away.

What, in your opinion, caused the flood?
I do not know.

Some people say it was the God’s punishment, the others claim that it was caused by rains...
God’s punishment? Who knows... Disasters happen all over the world. I do not know. The way I see it, the ground has already... It was raining so many days, wasn’t it? It couldn’t have been... there was such a lot of water against the dam and everywhere. It looked as if the ground was pulled up by the water. Why are there such breaches in the ground? There were also such places behind the houses where the water did not reach, and anyway there are ditches there. It was as if the water came somewhere from... well... under the ground? It has never rained so heavily before. Since that flood, you know, for two years, I do not know if it has rained in a different way, or what? These days we hear the news about the floods here and there much more often than it used to be some 45 years ago.

So you do not remember such a flood in your life, do you?
I do not remember. In the place where I used to live in my childhood: near Kedzierzyn, by the river Odra, I remember the rains when some nearby meadows and some houses were flooded a little. But it cannot be compared to what we experienced here. The rains are different these days. They are so heavy nowadays, that in a few minutes...
Section 5
These days, when it begins to rain, what do you do? Do you phone to Miedzygórze to learn what is the condition of the dam?
No, I do not.

Aren’t you anxious to know what is the situation like? I know, some people do so: they phone the dam administrators to be aware of the situation.
Well, they may phone. I do not know. I do not even look into the river to check how much water there is. The rains are different these days. The river may look almost dry one moment, when suddenly it starts to pour and... It must have been a cloudburst or something like that.

How do you consider the assistance after the flood? I mean the things that you were given by different organisations?
Yes, it was a big thing, really. People helped each other as they could. The gifts arrived from all parts of Poland. The society did their best to help flood victims. Anyway, not those who needed most, received that help. I was embarrassed to go and ask for the assistance because there were a lot of quarrels on who deserved more. There were many examples of people who were not affected by the flood at all, and who would go and demand.

When your house got destroyed, did you not think of moving away to town or maybe to a different region?
No, I didn’t and I still don’t. I would never consider such a possibility. Yet, we have a farm, don’t we. I would not go anywhere. Not even to Bystrzyca. The Mayor of Bystrzyca talked to us once. He told us that he did not intend to build any new houses in Wilkanów. If the victims wanted to have new houses built, they had to agree to a new housing estate in Bystrzyca. But we did not want to agree. There were two families of us who did not want to. We had our farms, we had our farm animals here etc. We insisted that we would not move. We would rather build an additional unit attached to the old part than move away. At last, the Mayor agreed, but in order to make the cost of plot development lower, there had to be at least four new buildings constructed. He himself managed to encourage two families, who were determined to move to Bystrzyca, to stay in Wilkanów. Nowadays they are satisfied that they decided to stay.

Why did you not want to move from here?
I would never move to town.

Do you prefer to be here?
I enjoy farming and working in the field.

Do you like living here, in the mountains?
Yes we like it. People who visit this region admire it very much. We got used to it, so we find it nothing unusual. But for me, it is enough to go to town for a week, and I cannot stand it any more. I could never live in town.
Section 6
What, do you think, is the attitude of other people towards the mountains? Would the other victims of flood like to move away from here, or stay, as you did?
Can’t you see that? There were 20 households of us here before the flood. Ten houses were destroyed by the water. There are only four families who stayed in Wilkanów. All the rest went to town. And now they are glad to be there. But, you see, they had nothing here; nothing to keep them here. But, on the other hand, when one is taught that there is no living without fresh milk, cottage cheese, fresh eggs every day, he or she will never get used to living anywhere else.

What would you say about the seasons here? Winters in the mountains are pretty severe, aren’t they? Is it hard to live here in winter?
No. Why? Our conditions are not hard at all: we live beside the road, don’t we. Look at those who live over there, by the forest. They have a kilometre’s distance to get down to school. There are six children in that family. It is enough for them to get to the bus stop and they are all wet through. And then, they go and sit that way at school for eight hours. This is a poor family. Their life must be harder than ours.
In the summer it is really nice here. The children may have a lot of fun. We have family in Nowa Wies (village). Many people from big cities bought plots there and they are going to have houses built there. There are families from Warsaw and Wroclaw who arrive here and decide to stay. One lady from Warsaw bought a plot on the top of the hill, and she intends to build a house there. We were wondering how her children would get to school. We realise that people who got used to living in the mountain village do not care about such problems, but how will she manage? The one from the city? She claims, she has visited many places but she has not seen such a beautiful one as that one is. So they made up their minds to arrive and stay there. I myself cannot understand that. It is just incredible to me. I can understand building a holiday cottage in the mountains and come there even for the whole summer, but for someone who spent all his life in the city, to come and stay in the mountain village, it’s just incredible to me. My sister-in-law, who lives in Nowa Wies, told me that all the plots have been already sold there. Here, in Wilkanów - very few. The local inhabitants are very reluctant to stay here, so why should the others?

You have a farm. Is it the only source of your income?
We have a farm, but in fact we can say, we haven’t. In ’75 my father-in-law retired and he turned the farm over to the state ownership. The only property he could keep were the buildings. Those times, according to the law, the son could not inherit property from the father. So we decided that I would go to work. But we could not get used to living without working on a field. We wanted to regain our fields somehow. So we began taking our grounds on lease: from different farmers, piece by piece. This way we were able to collect 15 hectares. We claim that working in a field will always give some profit. What is more, my family really like that kind of work. We were always able to sell some potatoes, some eggs, and there was always something left, which we could divide within family. Living on farm working only is not enough these days, but now I have my pension, my husband and son still work, so we may say we have enough to live on.

So you have the additional sources of income, haven’t you?
Well, yes, we have. There are four adult people in our family, so there are four sources of income: my father-in-law and I have our pensions, my husband and son still work. Maintaining the farm also brings some profits.
Section 7
Which farm animals do you breed?
We keep everything: cows, pigs, hens, ducks. Just the ordinary farm.

Let me ask you about the flood once again. What is your opinion about the assistance you got both during and after the flood?
Well, people kept complaining that the Mayor and Administrator did not do their best. As far as I am concerned, I must admit that they did. Nowadays his tenure has terminated already but he keeps visiting our village from time to time. He also visited us often during our construction works when we were having our house built. We cannot complain.
There are people who would always complain, no matter how much they would be given. We have a neighbour who is happy to be alive after all those horrors we had to suffer, but on the other hand, we have two other neighbours who keep complaining that they were given too little, that they should have been given more, etc. Who would care about that now? If we had not been given anything, we would still have to manage. Yet, we received some assistance from the Gmina (local administration of a commune council), especially those who had the new houses built. Apart from us there are three other families who were granted additional 3,000 zlotys for construction works. It really costs a lot of money to buy the materials, to make all the arrangements, etc., so we are grateful for what we have received.

These days, a new school is being built. Who is the sponsor?
The German are.

The school is to be open on 1st of September. Do you think they will have finished by then?
Yes, they will. The base construction is completed. There are some additional glass elements which are to be delivered. An agreement has been signed, and they will pay very heavy penalties if they do not finish in time. So I think they will finish.

I heard that the first aid after the flood was also organised by the German, wasn’t it?
Yes, we received a lot of help from the Germans. I remember them coming and interviewing the local inhabitants, and then we received some assistance from the German magazine Zeitung or something like that. When we were asked to go to Wroclaw to take our money, I learnt that it was from those Germans. Well, they came round to our village and asked people about the flood.
I remember the German man talked to me. He said we had been so much affected by the flood, and he was very surprised we did not lament or cry as the others did. I said I had such a character that I never cried. Then I told him that once I had been ill with cancer and thank God I had recovered. Since then I can enjoy my life. Even if I had nothing, I would be happy to be alive. He said he admired our attitude, and the way we could manage with the disaster, despite there were so many of us in one place; as it was the time when my daughter with her husband and three children were still with us. He added that he agreed, there was no use crying, it would not help. And after that we received 19,000 deutsche mark. The German also sent us many things, clothes, but we never managed to reach it. There were three TIR lorries, but there was always so much confusion. My God! Such a crowd of people gathered! The drivers were tired and hot, it was such a hot day! There was such a confusion that suddenly it turned out that there was nothing left and we did not get anything. Another example of the German’s help was my son-in-law’s friend named Artur Musiol, who lives in Germany and whose father is an inhabitant of Wilkanów.
After the disaster Mr. Musiol phoned his son Artur who lives in Germany. He organised the transport of furniture and other necessary things and sent it here in two lorries. They had the list of families which were in the biggest need, among them was my son-in-law, and the rest was supposed to be given to the local orphanage. When they stopped at the beginning of the village, they could not move up. The people grasped at the goods, they started crawling on the track, pulled the driver out, they struggled, quarrelled, they even tried begging the German man... What was worst, they even took the things which were supposed to be taken to the orphanage. Later, Mr Musiol paid for a mass intending to thank for the aid sent to the inhabitants of Wilkanów. Only one family appeared in the church. As it turned out later, they were going to send us two more lorries of goods, but because of what happened with the first transport, the gave up the idea.
Section 8
Would you like to add anything?
Well, I do not know. Well, no, I wouldn’t.

So, thank you very much.
The chronology of events in the life of Mrs. Lamasz:

1947 - birth year
1964 - the beginning of work in a shop
1975 - father-in-law retires and the farm becomes state owned
1977 - the lease of the farm
1997 - flood
1999 - today