Poland glossary








former teacher/ pilot/general manager




July 1999



Section 1
Let’s start with some data concerning your person...
I was born on 11 January 1927 in Kolno, district of Lomza, province of Bialstok. From 1930 I lived in Grodno, where my father worked, he was an army officer. He was the head of the military district. Grodno was well known for its garrison. There were four units: artillery, two infantry units and tanks. My father’s job was to keep a keen eye on our eastern neighbours, the Soviets. He often had visitors – colonels, priests of all denominations, orthodox, Muslim, Evangelical, you name them – and they talked about what going on in the Soviet Union. Apart from that, my father worked as a teacher in a few local secondary schools. He organised scouts there, organised army training for young people. In short, he worked a lot, from dawn till dusk. Even at 10 pm he would still be listening to Radio Moscow, to learn about what they were saying about the situation in the Soviet Union.
I went to a primary school that was run by nuns. It was an exclusive school, for the elite, you know. I graduated from it in 1939, and I passed my entrance exams to the grammar school. I was already a grammar school student. My mother was a housewife; I mean she had no proper occupation. We had a very elegant flat... and, yes; it was in 1939 that the Russian invaded us. They said they were liberating us, as they used to say, from the tyranny of the Polish lords. On 19 October my father was arrested. They took him away straight from school, from the classroom. It was some Jews that had denounced him. It was only after many years that I got to learn what it looked like, how it went. One of my father’s students, who was there at the moment, he told me much later that there were four soldiers, Soviets of course. They entered the classroom accompanied by four Jews, and they pointed their fingers at my father and said, “That’s him. That’s the Polish bastard.” I’ve never heard from him or about him since.
On 13 April 1940, at 4 am as I got to learn later, the huge deportation began - the largest deportation operation in history. Various figures are quoted: some say it was 380,000; some say it was 300,000 - but that was more or less that many Poles that were deported at the same time. The first deportation took place on 10 February, that was also a Saturday, a strange day, you know.

Coming back to your childhood, though. Could you say what you remember best from your home, what was the atmosphere like?
The atmosphere was very good. My father, as I said, was like a guest at home. He would return from work, but soon there were all those visitors of his, officers, priests, they would come and they’d talk, give my father information, what they’d found out from their faithful, all about the situation in the Soviet Union. Other than that, I think we were quite well off.
Section 2
What traditions do you remember?
Traditions... You see, my father was an Evangelical, but all the traditional holidays, like Christmas and Easter, were celebrated normally, like any Catholics would. There was a Christmas tree, Christmas wafer. Just like in any Catholic family, things you hear about from television about what it used to be back then.

What religious denomination are you then?
I am a Catholic. So was my mother. My father was, as the very name suggests, he came from a German family, my grandparents were Evangelical too, but my father was born in Lvov, he studied there, at the university. I forgot to tell you, he took part in the defence of Lvov in 1918, as a 16 year-old boy. He fought in the battle of Warszawa. He got three medals, but I had to hide them so that the Russians wouldn’t find them. The medals are probably still there, hidden underground in the yard. He had lots of medals.

What were your relationships with other people? How was your family treated?
The relationships were very good. Our neighbours treated us well, the Jews too. It only later turned out that they were a different kind of people. And the school, it was run by those nuns I told you about, there was such strict discipline that you wouldn’t believe it possible.

What was it like?
There were normal lessons, always preceded by a prayer. During the lesson everybody was quiet. If you went to the blackboard, everybody was silent. During the breaks, we were allowed to talk, but also rather quietly, we couldn’t shout or laugh. The nuns would go up and down the corridors and admonish us, but I don’t remember an instance that someone would behave badly, use bad language – that was unthinkable. If you wanted to get a good grade, you had to know everything by heart. I can show you my certificates; I still have all of them. I also have lots of photographs if you needed them. Because I, when we were deported, I took all my books and all my documents, everything I had. [He takes out old albums and documents.] See, this was the school; only children of higher officers went there. Professors’ children, engineers’, factory owners’ – the elite, you know. [He shows certificates.]

So it was a church school, wasn’t it?
Yes, at Nazaretanska Street - there you are. It was the only school... Look, I also have certificates from the courses I attended; I also have a certificate of employment in Russia. At one point I needed it, when I was retiring - after all, six years of employment isn’t nothing. So I wrote to the office in the town where I was working, after 40 years. I thought all the documents would have got lost, the war and all that... Especially given that it was the largest construction site during the war, the strategic railway line which was used to supply coal to the Urals during the war. There were about two million people employed there at the time. You know, they would shoot 100,000 people a day if there was anything wrong. I thought the documents were lost. But no, I got all of them within two weeks. I was so surprised. I even wrote to their Pravda newspaper about it, and they published my letter. Nobody would believe me in my workplace. If you think about the size of the construction, it was approximately four million square kilometres. Four million! As if the whole of Europe. And I worked there [keeps leafing through the documents].
You see, I like collecting old documents, and I’ve got lots of the pre-war newspapers, and books. When they were taking us away, I packed two cases of books and documents. Look, these albums are pre-war. See, this is Grodno... This is what it looked like, and this is the Niemen river. It was shorter than the Vistula, but it was beautiful. Look, this is myself, and my father, and my uncle. This is an interesting photo, this is where Eliza Orzeszkowa wrote her novel Nad Niemnem.
Section 3
Exactly here?
Exactly. We would organise outings to the banks of the Niemen, that’s what our nun showed us. She told us that Eliza Orzeszkowa would sit here, and this is the view she would see. Beautiful scenery, isn’t it? There were rafts on the river; they would float timber down the river to the sea. And this is a rifle range, my father used to supervise soldiers at training. This is my father with his students at the vocational school, my father at the stadium...

What did your father teach?
He taught German, of course, he knew it perfectly, and he taught technical drawing, ran military training, that had that at schools too.

What language did you speak at home?
Why, Polish, only Polish. This is the only photo of my father in a colonel’s uniform I’ve got. My mother burned all the others, so that they were not found by the Russians. Although they knew anyway. And this is my father with his students. Look, this is Kusocinski, the famous athlete, Olympic medallist... This is myself in the grammar school uniform. My father took this photo shortly after the entrance exams that I passed.

Did you wear a uniform every day?
That was the only way you could be dressed for school. Uniforms, caps, with a blue cross at the front, with Christ crucified. That was a normal school uniform; you were not allowed to enter school in anything else. That’s what it looked like. All these photographs are what I managed to salvage from Grodno. This is myself here, the one with the big mouth [laughs]. This was taken during a school trip to Ostra Brama. This is a photo of my father teaching my mother.

Your father taught your mother?
So he did. Oh, and this is father Blizinski, the famous priest who set up the first farming cooperative in Poland. And this is Christmas, and my friends, see...

What kind of Christmas presents did you get?
Oh well, all sorts of toys. Yeah, that’s what we always found under the Christmas tree. And this is my cousin, I don’t know what happened to her, very nice lass she was... [keeps shuffling the photos]

What is the picture of Grodno that you have in your memory?
A beautiful town, very clean. You see, in Grodno, there was just one street that had a sewage system, it was Dominikanska Street, its main part and Orzeszkowej Street. And the rest, you know, we had water supply alright, but with the sewage, everything was poured into the gutter. As to electricity, in the 1930s on the other side of the Niemen, we didn’t have electricity. There was a tobacco factory, so they needed electricity for the machines, but we didn’t have it. We used kerosene lamps. Look, nice flat - but with kerosene lamps only.
Section 4
What do you remember best from your life?
From my life? Well, my school, of course, when I passed my entrance exams, the celebrations. But what I remember most is the Russian invasion, that’s when the war broke out. On 1 September, there were planes flying in the air, but we thought it was some sort of military exercise. Even when they started dropping bombs, I was still thinking it was an exercise. Only when my father arrived home on his motorbike, did he tell us that it was a war. And rode away. I didn’t see much of him at that time. That’s what I remember most from Grodno. And then, I remember when my father took us to his friend’s, a factory owner behind the Niemen, where we were supposed to be safe. My father said the Germans would come from the other side, so we were safe there. But it was from that direction that the Russians came.

Did you expect that?
No way! My father, together with other officers went to Lithuania and I lost contact with him. He returned in October, but he was soon arrested. He returned and started teaching, they’d opened the school normally, and that was where they arrested him. The Russians… my dear lady, it was terrible what was happening. Where we were living, there was a rifle team, and they defended themselves there. They never mention that on television or on the radio, but they defended themselves quite long, in that tobacco factory. And we were living right next to it, so we could see everything through the windows, from the cellar, obviously. You could see the shooting from both sides, and how they surrendered after three days. That was when we could go out too. I remember, they went in fours, with their arms like this, on their backs, and there were NKWD officers everywhere around them. And they lead them, you know, straight before the wall, to shoot them.

Did you see all that?
I saw them lead, but I didn’t see the execution. They must have taken them somewhere, shot them and put them into the water in the end. And that was it. We returned to our flat, and that’s when the arrests started, one after another.

And the deportation, do you remember that?
Yes. One after another, people got arrested, deported. It was like in that book by Hemingway: For Whom the Bell Tolls. What could they arrest us for? My father was in the army, and we – two children, mother... Anyway, it was at 4 am, knocking on the door, with the rifles. My mother opened the door, they didn’t even ask you the name, they knew exactly. They said they came to search the flat. Started opening the wardrobes, looking into every single room, under the beds. I don’t think they were looking for anything, rather for somebody who might be hiding there. One of the officers - I still remember his face, dark blond, good, blue eyes - he took his cap off and he said, “Let’s go. You’re going to Siberia.” My mother started panicking, crying, screaming. But that didn’t help. They took all the clothes from the wardrobes, packed them and took us to the car. Later, I found out the orders were to take us without any packing, with no luggage, so that we would die of cold and hunger. And many did.
But that officer, he helped us, looked into the wardrobes, asked if we’d taken everything, some provisions, tea, he helped us pack. Why tea? As it turned out later, tea is worth as much as gold in Kazakhstan. They drank a lot of tea there, chew tobacco... He told us to pack everything, rugs, woollen clothes. On the train, we met Krzyszton, that writer, Jerzy Krzyszton, you must have read some of his books. He wrote about Grodno, he came from Grodno, he wrote about that kolkhoz (farm cooperative) we were in. After the war, I found his name in the telephone directory for Warszawa, I thought he might have got saved. I wrote to him; he wrote back. We exchanged a few letters, but after that he committed suicide. There was another one – Jakubowski. He was the editor in chief of the Ossolineum Institute. I corresponded with him too. Some time later, I read in the paper that he’d died. Anyway, there was this carriage: 60 people in it, three-storey beds, with all the belongings at the bottom, young people at the top.
Section 5
How long did the journey take?
Hold on a minute... The windows were closed, so we cut holes in them with a penknife – they were just covered with a piece of cloth, as we were in a cargo carriage, not a passenger one – and we took turns looking out so that we knew where we were going. We reached the border, up to which point the tracks were narrow. From then on, there were the Soviet, wide tracks. They re-loaded us to Soviet carriages, you could hear only Russian spoken - swear words all the time. Yes, and the window covers were lifted, so you could watch the scenery. On 1st May, we were at Kopczetap station, not far from Petropavlovsk, village of Opuchovka, the Shevchenko kolkhoz. They put us into the kolkhoz buildings to live there. Nobody asked anyone if they could come in or something. No. There was just one room in the house we stayed at. Nobody asked the owner. It was a Cossack leader and his family who lived there, in that house. They were very good people. I have never met people like them. They knew we were poor, had no food, so they fed us, gave us some soup, gave us milk. They had a cow, you know, they knew we couldn’t pay them for that, they gave us some bread spread with lard – nobody had heard about margarine then. They were very good to us; I could go on talking about them for ages.
The village of Opuchovka – a long time later, I even received a letter from there – consisted of a few hundred houses, one long road, not even a street. What’s interesting, there was a school. I have to admit, the education system in the Soviet Union was on a very high level. There was also a secondary school in that kolkhoz of ours. You get proper education in 10 years. At the end of August, they held a meeting, called everyone in, and they said all the children were supposed to go school - obligatory. So we went, I started learning Russian; I was quite good at it. I liked that school, went there willingly. I mastered Russian alright. I started reading books. There was a library I often went to, I made friends with the librarian, a Kazakh. It took me one winter to master Russian well enough to be able to read Tolstoy. I read all the Russian classics. I remember one day, I was in the library, and I saw that very thick book on the shelf, War and Peace. I liked it. The librarian said it was not a book for me, I wouldn’t understand it. Still, I took it home. I read it all in just one week. After work, when you returned home in the winter, I used kerosene lamp and I read. After a week, I took it back to the library. The librarian was most surprised. Wouldn’t believe me I’d read it. Kept asking me questions about the book to check if I’d really read it. I told him all about the characters in the book, the battles won and lost, about how the Russians abandoned Moscow, burnt it. He said, “It’s the first time that I have seen a pupil like you. Russians don’t read that much. And you’re a Pole who came here without knowing a word of Russian.”
Actually, you know, I knew some Russian before the war, we had a Russian servant, her name was Waria. She didn’t know a word of Polish, so she often used Russian when she spoke to us. Anyway, I read all there was to read in one winter, Russian literature, even some poetry. Can you imagine that? Nowadays young people don’t read poetry at all. But I was interested in that, you know. When you read poems by Lermontov, it’s like being there, experiencing the things with him; same with books. I was reading Tolstoy, and it felt as if I were there as well, at the Borodino battlefield. I passed from one form to another. There was Krzyszton there with me, that writer. He was a bit younger, but they sent us all to the same form. Because we didn’t speak Russian, they sent us to the same form, so that we should learn Russian.
Section 6
Was it a mixed class? I mean, together with the Russians?
Yes, of course it was!

How were you treated?
The Russians thought the Poles were a nation of lords. They often ridiculed us, shouted, “Hey, sir!” behind our backs. What’s interesting, during breaks at school, when we talked to each other, the Russians wanted to learn some Polish, and we wanted to practise our Russian. There was lots of fun when we mispronounced words, or they misused some of the Polish phrases. You could write a book about it.
In the summer of 1940, I had a pair of fieldglasses that my father had left me. Proper, military binoculars. And I liked to go out into the plain with them and observe what was going on. So, here I go, with those binoculars dangling on my neck, and they see them and get very jealous. Apparently, the only time they’d seen a pair of field glasses was in the science coursebook. They knew such things existed, but they’d never seen any. They asked me to let them have a look. And the view was very nice, a Kazakh on a camel, oxen, horses. I could even see how long the Kazakh’s whip was, although he was 10 kilometres away from us. They enjoyed it very much, and from then on, they were different towards me. They said “good morning” to me, called me by my proper name, never made fun of me any more. It took only one pair of silly binoculars.
The people there, especially the Siberians, are wonderful people, I’ve got very good memories of them. All had been deported there; nobody lived there normally. It was only the Kazakhs who were aboriginal, but they were good people as well. They liked to trade: tea, tobacco. They would chew tobacco and spit, no matter if they were outside or not. The local railway station, for example, was all covered with green spit. Some of them made an art of it, they could spit for 2 metres and hit a fly sitting on the wall. But that’s another story.
In kolkhoz, you did not have to steal things to live. You could go into the field, there was grain, sunflowers, we often ate them. The sunflowers – it is said that all that’s Soviet is big, but I think it’s an exaggeration. The seeds were three times as big as ours though. Yeah, so we had potatoes we could dig out in the field, sunflowers, grain. We didn’t starve, not at all. The food shortages started when the war broke out. What else?
Section 7
What happened when the war broke out, in 1940?
Yeah, we were still in the kolkhoz. Suddenly, there’s the phone call. In the morning... You could hear this terrible scream. It was one of the Jewish women crying, “The war!” She got real crazy. Hitler! What’s going on? Don’t you know? A war has broken out. Hitler has invaded us. She was scared and we were glad: maybe there would be proper war, the Germans would come and liberate us. And we had this meeting in the kolkhoz, our leader said we had to give everything to the front. Representatives of that construction site – you know, the railway line I mentioned – they arrived and they recruited workers for the construction. We volunteered, didn’t feel like spending any more time in the kolkhoz. We thought life would be more interesting at the railway construction. We packed up and went to the railway station. It was 60 kilometres away; they took us there in cars. And we left for Ambasar. There, we lived for six years. For the first year, well, less than a year, I did not work. Later, I decided I would. The food was rationed. Those who worked got 800 gram of bread a day. Those who didn’t: 400. That was some difference. And you could get some food in the canteen, a piece of meat from time to time, lamb or horsemeat, so life was easier if you worked.
There were barracks with 60 people living in each. Three-storey beds; with the older people at the bottom and the youngest occupying the top levels. The stove was on all the time, day and night, we had lots of coal. And in the evening, you know, from dawn to dusk, we had to work. We started with the sunrise, and knocked off with the sunset. We sometimes quarrelled about whether you could still see a bit of the sun or not. When it totally disappeared, the day’s work finished. We worked at the construction site. It was my first construction, that’s what my employment certificate says. No idea where they knew that from.
They told me to make some nails. How? They summoned me to the smith’s workshop, I took a few tools, some wire. Where should I take an anvil from? Go and pinch it, they said, and if someone asks you, tell them you found it. You see, this is how things are done in the Soviet Union. And the wire? Pinch it too. And a hammer? Pinch it. I didn’t have anything but they told me to make nails. They said you were supposed to go and pinch things, whatever you can. So I did. A piece of the railway track, a hammer, I went to the steam engine room, saw a hammer lying on a rolling machine, I put it behind my shirt, nobody saw it. And on the next day, I was ready to make nails. They praised me, you’re a hero, they said, you will not get lost in the Soviet Union. And there I was making nails with the stolen materials and tools. But I envied everyone else. For example, the horse cart driver. They had access to everywhere, so they could steal whatever they needed. Wooden boards, cement, coal, everything you need. You can pinch it and bring it wherever you please – either home or to the construction site.

Did you get promoted to be a horse cart driver?
Yeah. You know, if you wanted to become a cart driver, you had to have your own whip and spade. So I arranged for them. One of the Kazakhs, he always rode on horseback, he had this wonderful, 3 metre-long whip. I knew it had to be mine. Took some effort and it was dangerous – he could kill me in cold blood – but finally I managed to steal it from him. God, how angry he was when he discovered his whip had disappeared. Anyway, I had a whip, I had a spade, went to the stable master, and he employed me there.
Section 8
Who employed you?
The stable master, Alexieyev his name was. I think so anyway. Later, it was the local NKWD head who employed me as his driver. That was sort of another promotion of mine. It took me a long time watching others harness the horses, use the whip and so on. I often helped other more experienced drivers harness horses, so that I could learn to do it myself. Today, I could do that with my eyes closed. Fifty years have passed and I still know how to do it.
There was this guy, Skakun his name was, he was a big man, weighed about 90 kg. He was the driver of the NKWD head before me, but he got killed in a fight. So that Artemiev guy, the NKWD officer had a problem. He said, I want Edzik (that’s myself); he’s a smart guy. I was only 16 then. He said, “Edzik speaks Russian perfectly, he always delivers newspapers. Sometimes they didn’t deliver bread, but the press has always been on time. He reads, so he knows everything about the situation at the front, reads and writes fluently in Russian.” I even wrote letters for the Russians, applications, complaints of all sorts... So that Alexeyev calls me to his office and he says, “Edzik, you are going to be a driver of the boss.” I said, “Which one?” And he said, “We only have one boss.” So I harnessed three horses to a cart, beautiful, clean horses. My new boss wasn’t happy about the way I looked, so he issued an order to supply me with new clothes. I got a new pair of shoes, very elegant ones, a new coat – from the soldiers killed in the war, you know, they took the clothes from the dead, and then they supplied those clothes to those working at the construction site. The coat was even stained with blood in places, I had to wash it. I also got a cap, new pair of trousers and everything I needed.
I returned to my new boss. “Well, now we can travel together,” he said. “Where are we going?” I asked. “To the District Committee.” He went inside, and I was left in front of the building. There was a square on which I practised u-turns with my three-horse cart. When I was doing it, rather hard and fast, he got out of the building. I almost knocked him over. I thought that was the end. I would either go to hunt polar bears or get shot there and then. But he said, “I didn’t know you’re so good at it.” He was glad, patted me on the shoulder. Thank God, I thought, he might have drawn his gun and shot me in cold blood. He liked having me as a driver. He knew he could trust me. Whatever I saw or heard, I forgot almost instantaneously, and he liked it. Even my mother and my brother didn’t know I was working for the NKWD head. I was taught to keep my mouth shut whatever happened.

That’s what they told you?
My friends advised me to keep my mouth shut, and so I did. Now I can talk about it, he’s been dead for a long time now, books are written about those times. I often went to drink vodka with him; I often got some food, better meat from him. I had everything I needed. He had whatever he wished, so I benefited from that too. We often went to different kolkhozes, he had some vodka, gave me some too. Other drivers had to stay with the carts, freeze themselves to death almost. He always remembered about me, brought me some vodka, some food. We often sat down together, talked. And nobody ever found out where he’d been, even the militiamen. Nobody knew what he was doing, and he liked it that way. He never told me that I was supposed to keep quiet, but I knew, I figured it out.
Section 9
What sort of people were they?
Wonderful! I’ll always have good memories of Artemiev. He was a good man... First, there was the NKWD officer who executed the deportation back at home, who helped us pack up our things. After all, he was risking his life. Then there was this Artemiev guy. Look here, for example. I was in the town of Ambasar, there were Kazakhs living there. One of them meets me and says, “I need some bricks, you work at a construction site, will you pinch some for me?” “What will I get for that?” I said. “Four loaves of bread,” he says. You have no idea what that meant. If I gave you a mink fur, you wouldn’t be as glad as I was to get four loaves of bread. I went to the construction site, harnessed horses to a cart. Nobody asked a word, it was none of their business. After all, I was the driver. I loaded 400 bricks onto the cart, nobody asked what for. Now, there were two roads I could take – one went near the railway tracks, the other near the NKWD headquarters. The latter was a better one, you know, with the cargo of 400 bricks, each weighing 4 kilos. I still remember what it was like. So I chose the NKWD road. When I was passing by their HQ, two militiamen came out asking me what I was doing there. I said I was going to town. “What’s your cargo?” they asked. They looked into the cart and said, “You pinched that!” I said, “I am taking this to a construction site.” “There’s no construction site there,” they said. They knew exactly where what was going on. I could already see the polar bears – for stealing strategic construction material from that great construction site. Now, I look, Artemiev comes out. He told those two to return inside. He asked me, “What’s your cargo? Where did you take it from? Ah, pinched it! Where are you taking it?” “To a guy in town. He promised me four loaves of bread for it.” “Ha, ha, ha,” he laughed. “Go on.” So I turned into the direction of where I took the bricks from. “Where are you going now?” he said. “No,” he said. “Take those stolen bricks where you were going.” That Kazakh was scared when I told him about it. “Did you tell them who you were taking those bricks to?” Of course I didn’t. He thanked me, gave me some milk. I took the bread back home. Beautiful bread, two kilos each. How happy my folks were back at home.
Another thing. I think it was February 1940. I was summoned to my boss. He said we were to be visited by the minister of transport, a friend of Stalin’s, Lavrenti Pavlovich Beria and Lazar Moisievich Kaganovich. Kaganovich was of Jewish origin. All the NKWD forces were alerted, we had to clean all the horses, we had to go to the station and wait for them there. He told me the date and time – say whatever you will but the Soviet trains were extremely punctual. There was unbelievable order about that. Well, and on that day, we were at the station, lots of militia everywhere. The train arrived, 11 carriages, I remember exactly, two platforms with cars on them, passenger ones. I was wondering why they needed the cars if there were no proper roads. Apparently, it was Kaganovich’s first time in Siberia. If he’d known he would have ordered horse-drawn carts rather than cars. Our NKWD head reported to them and said we had carts. They said they didn’t need carts; they had their cars. Well, their cars went as far as 20 metres, and got deep into the snow and stopped altogether. That guy came up to us and said, “You were right, comrade. Have you got horses?” “’Course we do. They are waiting over there.” All of the people got out of the train, about 100 NKWD officers, the whole station was surrounded by them. Security measures, you know. The train carriages were shining, brand new, as if they’d just left the factory. A real beauty. The NKWD officers were wearing new, elegant white fur coats, new shoes... And the two important ones got out too. Beria and Kaganovich; Beria was Georgian by origin.
We had three carts, three horses drawing each. I was appointed to take the VIPs. In the front, there was one cart with NKWD officers, their machine guns ready. Somebody told me they didn’t have such modern guns at the front, but those officers already had them. They were holding them on their knees, ever ready to use them. Directly behind them there were us, followed by another cart with NKWD officers. Should anyone appear on the way, they would have got shot on the spot. But who would dare to do anything to them? People were scared. Because it was winter, I didn’t have to stay with the horses, I had this permit, and I went everywhere my boss went – normally, I would just have slept in the cart, I mean in the summer. So I heard all their meetings, discussions etc. And Beria started asking what the reason was for the Ural railway not working yet, and coal is not delivered to the Urals. According to Stalin’s orders, every half an hour 3000 tonnes of coal were supposed to go to the Urals. And the industrial towns of Sviedvorsk and Magnitoborsk were strategic for the military reasons. If they don’t have coal, the steel factories cannot work, the gun factories cannot operate, the army will have no supplies.
They were told that there was shortage of water, they needed a lot of water, but the pump plant was not powerful enough to supply all the steam engines in time. Anyway, they said there was no water. “So you have to pump water from the river, there is a river nearby, isn’t there?” “You’ve got a problem with pumps? Make a phone call to this and this person, tell them to supply you with good, American pumps. Will 40 pumps be enough?” You will not believe it, but 40 new American Hercules pumps were delivered on the next day. They assembled the pumps, made a pipeline and the water problem was solved.
There was a catastrophe one day... A huge steam engine blew up, the largest steam engine in the world, FD 213144. Its four-person crew got killed. And the railway tracks were blocked for two hours, there was just one track in one direction, so for two hours there were no coal deliveries to the Urals. There was a technical reason for this catastrophe. The pipes in the engine were supposed to be finished with an alloy containing lead. In this way, if there was no water in the boiler, the alloy would melt and everything would be safe. Apparently, they did something wrong with the pipes, and as a result the engine blew up. They opened all gates, summoned everyone. “Who worked with the engines on that day?” The engine room manager investigated, Beria was only listening. They wrote down the names of the people responsible, those who did the night shift then. The engine room operated a two-shift system. They interrogated everyone and the matter seemed to be closed. On the next day, I came to work and I asked how they were doing in the engine room. All the team, those who worked there on that night disappeared. That was the way they did it – at night, so that nobody noticed anything. Nobody knows where – they just disappeared. We never heard about them again. Naturally, they were shot; Beria didn’t make any fuss about that.
When we were on our way from the station, Kaganovich – tall, black-haired, a handsome man, a Jew, you know – he didn’t say a word. Beria said to me later, “Come on, sit here among us. Tell me how you’re doing, how’s life, how’s the food?” I said, “Comrade” – cause I knew who I was talking to – “I’m clothed, I can’t complain.” He was glad about what I said. “Just don’t tell anyone you’re a Pole. Then thing might get worse. But you’re not complaining?” “Not at all.” “And who is it that steals the most around here?” “I don’t know that, sir.”
Section 11
Why did they come there at all?
To investigate the reasons for the break in supplies to the Urals. And while at it, they wanted to find out as much as possible about the people there: who plots against Stalin? whether people complain about him? Beria was a very keen listener, he hardly ever spoke but he listened. They spent there eight days. Day and night. As soon as I returned home, Alexeyev knocked on the window to summon me back to work again. There was no peace either in the day or in the night. My mother didn’t know what I was doing until the day she died. In the town Poles generally knew little about it. They were scared. They didn’t want to mess about with the NKWD. Preferred to keep their distance.

Did the Poles there stick together? How did they live there?
Not really. They formed such small groups. I must admit I didn’t have much to do with the other Poles. From the day I arrived there till the day we left. In May, when we were already packing up for Poland, they looked at me and asked, “What are you doing here? Are you a Pole? We didn’t know that.” Girls said that, they thought I was handsome.

But you were living with...
No, no. We got this dug-out hut, one room in it. My mother lived there, my brother and myself. The room was more or less the size of this one, on the left there was an oven, and there were wooden boxes with clothes. And so we lived in that dug-out. They built either tall, insulated houses there or dug-outs, where the window was on the ground level. If somebody came and could not get to the door, they would knock on the window. There was another family living next to us, we knew them a bit. There was this girl, Anna Wysocka her name was, I liked her a lot. I always stole coal for her and left it in front of their door... And there were a few other families as well nearby. But I always left home at dawn, and I always returned after dusk, I was tired and went to bed. I hardly ever spoke even with my mother.
Now, I’m going to tell you about the Chechens. When the Germans were approaching Stalingrad, the Chechens started organising themselves against the Russians. For the time being they were left free to do that because the Russians were busy at Stalingrad, but when the war was over - no, sorry, it was still during the war - they were tidying up things between Moscow and Stalingrad. Apparently, Stalin had this note in his diary – or maybe it was Beria – that there was a need to put a stop to the Chechen problem. I knew from my meetings with the Chechens, when I’d made friends with them – at first they always had their scimitars ready, that on 29th February 1944 – you can check that later, in 1944 February had 29 days – they summoned all men to a meeting. The Chechens did. There is this custom that women have got nothing to say. Anyway, they gathered all the men in the kolkhozes. But they didn’t know that everything was surrounded by NKWD forces, with the machine guns ready, and they said through a loudspeaker that they should give up their guns and surrender. They were not so willing to do that, so the NKWD opened fire from heavy machine guns, from the forest that surrounded that clearing where the meeting was held. Several hundred people died there. They didn’t care; they just shot into the crowd. The Chechens all raised their hands, abandoned their guns. They were taken to train carriages - women were told to join their men - locked them up in those trains and deported them to Siberia, to the construction site of ours. That happened in March. Didn’t take them much time.
I remember those people. Chechens were very handsome, tall, black eyes, thick eyebrows. Very cultural people. They never picked girls up, no. If a man liked a woman, he would marry her. True, they could have several wives. I knew a guy who had 11 wives. But their custom was that men didn’t work, it was the women who worked. When they arrived, they sent all the women to work. I remember little girls, there was one 15-year-old, she worked at the housing construction site. She was so pretty, they all were. Could be actresses or dancers, really. And I was a womaniser, you know. When I saw her, I came closer, and I touched her breasts, they were so hard, beautiful... She moved away, gave me this devilish look. He father approached me and said, “Listen boy. You keep your hands away from her or else we will cut your head off.” “You bastard,” I said. “You have hardly arrived here and you’re going to threaten me already?” I added lots of swear words to that. He just looked at me, the girl grew pale, and they went away. On the next day I heard rumours that two or three corpses were found. The heads cut off and stuck on poles. Only then did I realise that he had not been joking. Apparently, someone did something wrong to them and they executed them instantaneously. Cut their heads off and that was all there was to it. Such corpses were found every now and then. So we got scared of the Chechens. The militia took their scimitars away from them, so they kept them at home, and when they carried them outside, they were hidden under their clothes. Later on, I got to know one of them. “Come to me,” he said. “You will see how we live.” I went with him. They had large sacks of corn… you know what corn is?
Section 12
They had made mortars in which they ground the corn. They were very primitive, made from rail carriage parts – brakes and other things. The grinding, however, was very primitive. I told them I had a quern stone at home, and if they wished, they could come and use it to make corn flour. However, it was women who worked there, so they took three quite attractive young women along. When my mother saw them with their scimitars and all that, she was terrified. “Jesus Christ, Edziu, who did you bring home! They are murderers! Some friends you’ve got.” She spoke Polish, so they didn’t understand a word. Anyway, they told the women to use the quern stone and grind the corn properly, and so they were busy grinding. They also gave us some corn. That was some food! You could cook soup for the whole day with it. It was then that I began seeing more of them; we became friends. They knew how to steal things. All I needed to do was tell them where to look for grain, where to look for coal etc. And soon they were my best friends, like brothers. They said, “If anyone ever does harm to you, just tell us, we will fix them.” I have already told you what that ‘fixing’ consisted in – cutting the head off and that was all there was to it.
That was back in 1944. Soon they started running out of their corn, the men didn’t work, so they received 400 grams of food, women received 800 grams - there was famine, they started dying of starvation. One after another. On my way to work, I would come across corpses every here and there. And those corpses... one woman was lying there for about a month, I think, all grey and decaying. They were so thin, only skin and bones. And at the construction site, people got wild. They were making practical jokes. For example, when they were plastering a wall, they would put the corpses into the plaster... In 1944, cannibalism was everywhere. Nobody knew about it.
Section 13
And the Siberian unwritten law you mentioned earlier? [when the recorder was off for a moment]
As I told you before, we were on our way to get some pigs, to the kolkhoz. The blizzard was unbelievable. It was there that my hair went white; we had to spend one night in the wild. We upturned the sledges, so that we didn’t get covered with snow altogether, and we spent the night there. The horses were tethered next to a pile of hay. Some people ask me why we didn’t get into the hay – we could have got covered with snow for good and died there. When snow froze there, it was as hard as concrete; we wouldn’t have been able to get out. There were three of us. In the morning we got up, turned the sledge, harnessed the horses and went on. It took us two days to reach that kolkhoz. We needed a place to spend the night when we got there in the evening. We knocked on the door of one of the huts there, they let us in, fed us, gave us some vodka. In the morning, after breakfast, I noticed there was a beautiful whip. I told you about the other one, didn’t I? The one I pinched. This time, it was even more beautiful, plaited, a wonderful thing. I liked it so much I pinched that one too.
We were on our way back; I took the whip out. The other guys, who were there with me, noticed it was not mine. “Did you bloody pinch it? You violated the sacred Siberian law, you bastard! Is that what they taught you in Poland? They received you, gave food and shelter, and you...” There was this unwritten law that if someone gives you shelter, feeds you, you can’t give them money, that would be an offence, but you had to respect your hosts whoever they were, Russian, Kazakhs, Mongols, whoever. We’d gone about 8 kilometres from that kolkhoz; we turned round and went back to those Kazakh huts. I had to kneel down on the floor, beat my head against the floor and ask their pardon. They said it was alright; I didn’t know the Siberian rules, they forgave me. They gave us some more bread, some lamb – they don’t eat pork – and we set off on our return trip. Then I learnt about that sacred Siberian law. You could travel all the way across the Soviet Union, from Sviedrovsk to Vladivostok, several thousand kilometres, with not a penny in your pocket. You could always count on a warm reception anywhere you went, people would feed you, give you shelter. You wouldn’t die of hunger; you would always have a place to spend the night. It was the sacred Siberian law. I don’t know what it’s like these days, but back then, it was so.
Now about that cannibalism I mentioned. There was this cemetery between the old town of Ambasar and the new centre. NKWD officers who patrolled that area reported some lights in the cemetery at night. On the previous day, Sztochin, the Regional Supplies Office Manager, died. He was a big man, weighed well over 240 pounds. He administered all the supplies for the construction sites, steam engine workshops, all the people who lived in the region. And the region of Ambasar was a large one, like a few counties put together. So his power was really tremendous. I’d been to his house; we’d had a meal together. He had everything he needed, meat, bread, everything. Today’s quality ham does not taste as good as the pork fat I got from him. Anyway, he died one day, of a heart attack most probably - a big man, 240 pounds, they buried him. When I heard about that light at the cemetery at night, I added two and two. Artiemev said we would go to that cemetery. I guessed what the whole thing was about.
When we got there, there were several NKWD officers, with their rifles ready, surrounding the cemetery. They said, “Hands up and get out of there!” They fired a few shots in the air, and about five people got out of the bushes surrounding the cemetery. The grave was open, the coffin broken, Sztochin’s body taken out. There was a sledge ready, waiting for the corpse. Somebody took care of the corpse, they buried it again, and we went with those people to their place. My dear lady, you would not believe what I saw there. My hair stood on end. It was like a butchery. All the bones boiled, cleared of meat, the brain taken out of the skull, cooked, the meat cooking in large pots that were normally used for sterilising clothes, bed clothing. There were mincing machines ready, they made some dough and were making pies. It turned out there were three houses in which they were doing that. They arrested everyone, men and women – there were no children – everyone was suspected. Altogether they arrested 18 people. All of them were taken over by NKWD.
Section 14
What sort of people were they?
Russians and Ukrainians. There were no Kazakhs. Russians, you know. Now, imagine - there was a railway station, trans-Siberian trains travelled there, people from Moscow, refuges from Leningrad, they were travelling to the east. There was this war with Japan, so they were needed there to help. When there was a transport of people from Leningrad, by the time they got to us, the people were hungry, dying of hunger literally. And there were those pies, fresh, hot, a lot of meat inside, a lot of garlic, there was a lot of wild garlic everywhere, you could find a lot of it. They made those pies, I remember the meat was pink and looked appetising. People loved them; they said they were ever so tasty. Fifteen roubles a piece. A loaf of bread cost 2.50 roubles. I got quite a good salary: 250-300 roubles a month. Generally, people would earn about 150 a month. Those pies were very cheap. The train conductor told people they were having half an hour’s stop. The pies sold like hot cakes. There always was a woman with a bucket or several buckets full of those pies; she always sold everything. If you didn’t have money, you could pay with earrings, gold rings etc. When they discovered those murderers and cannibals, who made dishes from human meat... Oh, I haven’t told you, they used the guts to make sausages, they sold them too, and they cooked the brains, added some blood, mixed it, and they sold all that to people as food. They added some potatoes, some seasoning, and they made pies out of all that. So, when they were discovered, there was no court or anything like that for them. Artiemev said, “Shoot them all! There’s no use playing around with these lice. Tomorrow, take one sledge, no need to take machine guns, handguns will do the trick.” And these cannibals will walk all the way, led by NKWD officers.
[end of cassette two] ... they had their handguns, a handful of ammunition to the pocket, just in case, there’s never too much ammunition. And we brought them to that cemetery, they were all tied, tied with barbed wire - there was a lot of barbed wire around there, there was a German camp there, I’ll tell you about it later. Their hands tied with that barbed wire, tied with pliers, there was no need to untie them any more. “See, Edzik,” he said to me, “This is the way you do it. You have to lean on your right leg, he must be right above the open grave” - for the execution, they had dug the ground a bit – “and the moment I shoot” - that’s how it is described in books as well; a shot in the back of the head, the good old NKWD method, so – “the moment I shoot, I kick him in the arse with my right foot... you know.” I know you don’t like hearing all this, but I’m telling you how it was. So, “...I stand on my left leg, raise my right foot a bit, kick him in the arse a bit, he falls into the grave. Why should I have to use my hands to throw that shit into the grave? He falls of his own accord. Exactly where his place is.”
Section 15
Because of the situation back in 1939, you found yourself in Siberia, your life changed totally, your family got broken to pieces, but I can’t sense any regret in your voice, no sorrow...
You know what Einstein – that scientist, you know – said about being intelligent? I don’t want to blow my own trumpet, I won’t... My brother is dumb, he’s always been. My mother has never been interested in that. I won’t boast too much, but I think I was intelligent enough to… as Einstein said, to adapt myself to any situation. Remember that and remember it well. If I were to find myself in prison now, I would be able to find a common language with the thieves as well as I can talk with you. I would be rude and vulgar to you, should you be passing by my prison window. Don’t be surprised. Fellow prisoners would then say I was alright, I was one of them. You see, when I talk to... After all, I’ve got friends in the army, generals, pilots, I’ve got professors who are my friends, at Wroclaw University, for example, professor Bukietynski - I don’t know if you’ve heard about him - they were my class mates. When I talk with professors, I use a different language, but when my police friends come here and we have vodka together, you would run away if you heard the language we use.
You have to be adaptable to any circumstances. Unfortunately, this is a skill that Poles don’t know. Most of them were people who had something, meant something before the war, but they couldn’t... they treated the Russians as inferior, they looked down at them. But they were not inferior, they had been deported there in the same way we were. Everybody, save the Kazakhs, had been deported there. And I found a way of adapting to them. Look at the Chechens: they are said to be professional murderers, but they treated me like a brother. I didn’t avoid them. Russians did. So, you know, you’ve got to find a way of adapting yourself to any circumstances.

So, what did the deportation mean to you?
The deportation was a most extraordinary experience for me. I remember when that NKWD officer first said “Pack up all your things, you’re going to Siberia”, I was pleased. I had read a lot, since I was six, and I learnt to read, my father taught me. I went to the second form at school from the very beginning, when I was seven. I could read, I could scribble; I’m still good at that. Anyway, I read a lot, and I liked books about travelling a lot. I’d read about Siberia, about Africa, Asia. Jesus Christ, going to Siberia was something incredible for me then. I thought we would go there, return safely soon, that it would be a sort of a nice trip for us. When we left, it soon turned out that there was no returning from there, we had to stay there for six years. In order to survive, not to die of hunger, one had to steal. Again, I don’t want to blow my own trumpet, but you could hardly find a better thief than myself, not even among the Russians, not to mention the Poles. I can steal, as they say, in broad daylight. That’s how I – and many other people next to me – survived. Including the Chechens.
For example, I’ll tell you a thieves’ trick. Alekseyev, that stables manager, he had a pigsty – no, it was called a warehouse - and I went there every day and collected 2 kilos of oats for the horse. That was a norm: 2 kilos of oats, hay, some straw as well, the horses would eat as much as they wished. One day, I noticed a sack, a hundred kilo sack full of wheat grain. From the moment I saw it, I couldn’t sleep at night thinking how to get hold of the grain so that nobody would notice. That warehouse was made of timber. One night, I took a drill - you know what a timber drill looks like - and went there to drill a hole in the timber wall. I also went to the steam engine room and I pinched this copper tube, 1.5 centimetres in diameter. I made it fit the drill, sharpened the end of the tube, like a syringe. Hear now, at night, snow was falling, wind howling as usual – I mean, I wouldn’t do it in good weather, there would have been traces – I went there, took a smaller sack with me. How much food would that make! Before that, I made measurements, where exactly the sack was, how far from the warehouse wall. I made a hole in the wall, put in that tube, the grain would slide down the tube, straight to my sack. I took it home, returned again, filled my sack again, and again, until there was nothing left. In the morning, I went to collect my quota of oats as usual. Everybody had their own sacks with them, and then, while the horse was eating, you had to watch save your colleagues should steal the oats from the horse. The thing was, however, that if even they had caught me - I mean, it is not who stole that is a thief, but he who let himself get caught. You could steal as much as you would provided you never got caught. Everybody praised me. But if they had caught me, I would have been everybody’s laughingstock. But because I stole it I never get caught, everyone would pat me on the shoulder like a hero. Stealing was the most respected profession there. You could be able to weld, roll, you could be a ironmonger – that was nothing. If you knew how to steal things, it meant you would manage to survive. That was important.
And I returned here, and worked here – not to mention the time spent in Siberia – for 44 years. It was six years there, which makes altogether 50 years of responsible jobs. For 10 years I was a cashier, I had access to millions, I paid out money, collected it, settled accounts. After that, I worked in the shop audit team. It was the kind of a job you could easily abuse financially. And you can see how I live now. All that I’ve got is those books, I don’t have a car, this [shows his room] is all I’ve got. If I had been stealing, I would be driving a Mercedes car now. Some time later, I had this job in Electric Works; I was a supplies manager. I could steal as much as anyone could wish. Then, I was an auditor for another 10 years; I fought the thieves around. But since I first came here, I’ve never been hungry; I’ve never had to steal. If I’d wanted to, like for example, rob a shop or a bank, I could do that, I would have found people to do that with me.
Section 16
What was your reaction to the news about returning to Poland?
Returning to Poland, you say... There was this Association that was founded there, Polish Patriots’ Association, it was founded by Wanda Wasilewska. Have you heard about that woman? Old communist, and of course everybody joined it, including myself, I still have their ID card. There was this agreement between the Polish and the Soviet governments, all about the Poles returning to Poland.
Section 17
Yes, how did you and your family react to the news?
We were all glad. I was glad too. We’d had enough of that stay in Siberia. So they announced we would return to Poland. People started making preparations, sold everything they had and couldn’t take back. That quern stone I mentioned before, I sold it for 400 zlotys; the whip, I wish I had taken it with me. The most honoured place on the wall would be reserved for it. I sold it for 400 roubles. Anyway, the news spread that we were to be leaving on May 1st, we were going back to Poland. The carriages were made ready...

Were they cargo carriages as well?
Yes, with three level beds. But it was in May, it was warm outside, so it wasn’t that hard for us. And it was at the station that some of the Poles recognised me. “So you’re a Pole as well?” they said. “I am.” “We thought you were Russian, you’ve always been with the Russians.” “Yeah, with the Russians. With them you could steal and you could live.” “Are they good people?” “Sure they are good people.” Poles didn’t complain about them much because most of the Russians had been deported too, so we were in the same boat. Anyway, we got on the train, which was due out punctually at noon. You should have seen the crowds of Russians at the platform. All seeing us off. It was May 1st, a bank holiday, crowds of people, the entire population of the town came to the station to wave us goodbye. Among others, there was a general from the Tsar’s army, and old man who was deported in 1920. Although he didn’t take part in the Soviet revolution, he was deported for life to Siberia as well. He came there and he played the guitar very beautifully. You know, all Russians sing. You take five drunk Russians and they sing better than our professional song and dance group. I still remember some of the song lyrics [sings in Russian].
Suddenly, I see there was Aleksieyev coming. He came up to say goodbye. He said, “Edzik, was that you who pinched that wheat grain?” Well, I was ashamed, but there was still the thief’s honour in me. I said, “Yes, comrade.” “I knew it was you,” he said. “But I didn’t catch you. How did you do that? The sack wasn’t even untied.” I told him how I did that. “Ooooh,” he said. “A good professional is leaving us then.” He patted me on the shoulder, and said – I will never forget those words – “With such skills, you will never get lost in Poland.” We talked a bit more and he said he had to return to see to the horses.
Suddenly, there was silence. Jesus Christ... There were those crowds of people, all dancing and singing, and suddenly there was silence. I looked out of the carriage and I saw Artemiev, together with 4 NKWD officers approaching. Bloody hell, I thought, apparently Aleksieyev reported to him that stolen wheat, and they were out to get me. I thought that was the end for me, they were going to arrest me. I thought we would never see Poland again. My brother, my mother and myself. And everybody around, you know, when they saw NKWD (Russian Security Service) approaching, they trembled with fear. They were like super-humans. I don’t know if people were scared of the Gestapo during the war as much as we were scared of the NKWD. They were coming straight in my direction. I thought to myself, this is the end, Edziu, you’re going to prison, or to hunt polar bears. “Good morning, Edward Edwardowicz,” he said. I thought it was alright. If he greets me, than it’s not that bad. “We came to say goodbye to you. You worked for us. We were pleased with you; you worked hard, so we want to wish you all the best in democratic Poland. What he meant was the People’s Republic of Poland. Everybody was surprised to see the NKWD regional head come to see me off. He was a good man, he would keep a blind eye on me stealing things from time to time...
Section 18
Were you allowed to choose the place in Poland they took you to?
No. We were all taken to Szczecin, but we had some relatives around here; my mother’s father and her sisters. We knew they were living in Klodzko. So we went to Pila, they gave us a carriage we got on it together with two other families who wanted to go to Lower Silesia, to Klodzko. Now, the problem was that I got lost in Wroclaw, on the way. So my mother and my brother got to Klodzko on their own, without me.

What happened in Klodzko when the war was over?
Well, what could happen? People had jobs; there were no problems. My aunt was a school headmistress in Narozno. Later, she was shot. I don’t know what the present name of the village is, there’s a small church near the school building... My uncle worked at the post office, my aunt Bronia was at home; she was a pensioner. And they lived alright. They got this UNRRA (United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration) assistance. My mother worked as a cook in a butchery canteen. So we had food. My uncle, he founded a trade company in Klodzko later. I went to school. In addition to that, I worked in a bank, you know a co-operative bank. My uncle helped me get the job, so I worked there, getting familiar with the clerk’s work, learning a lot.

Learning... Did you have any language problems?
Unbelievable, but I did! I didn’t work very long in the bank. The bank manager, he said we had to speak Polish. Customers would laugh, saying that we were still under the Soviet rules when they heard me speak.
So I went to school. I passed my final exams in 1949. They operated a system whereby you could do two years in one. I went to the third form from the very beginning. There were classes for young people in the morning and then, in the afternoon, there were classes for adults - in the same classrooms. But the problem was that when the youth came to school in the morning, they would find empty vodka bottles under the desks. Indeed we drank vodka during classes. So they moved us to another building - where museum is nowadays. The first finals examinations took place in 1946. There’s still a plaque commemorating it.

Is your name on the plaque as well? [interviewer attended the same school]
Yes, sure it is. The other day my son went to that school. He came back home and he said, “Father, there is a picture from the first final exams, and you are there as well.” I went there and indeed I was in the picture, among others. You wouldn’t recognise me now, but there are names under the picture.

And you worked at the same time, didn’t you?
Yes, I did. They were hard times.

What plans did you have for the rest of your life?
I passed my final exams in 1949. I was young and naive, so I wanted to become a pilot. The air forces were the elite of the Polish Army. I felt I could do anything to become a pilot. I applied to the local Army authorities. They sent me to Wroclaw, before the provincial commission – they said I was fit to become a pilot. You know, I spoke Russian; I’d graduated from a secondary school. I passed all the qualifying tests and medical examinations. Thanks to my stay in Siberia, I was extremely healthy. I could even fly jet fighters. In September 1949, I applied to Lublin. And I became a pilot, I flew planes. I’ve got photos; I showed them to you at the beginning. But they somehow discovered that I had an uncle in America. And an uncle in America didn’t go together well with flying planes. I don’t even blame them. There were cases of pilots flying away from the country. Lieutenant Jarecki, a friend of mine, was the first one to fly away to the Danish island of Bornholm, on the Baltic Sea. The Free Europe radio talked about it for two years. He was treated like a national hero who ran away. Although I think it was treason. I think he is still alive. Then again, there was Edward Pytko, also a friend of mine, he got shot down over Vienna, they caught him there. So anyway, I can’t blame the authorities. If you had an uncle in New York, you had to be relegated and sent to the penalty unit in Orzyszów - the most infamous penalty unit in the Polish Army. I spent there one and half years.
Because of my expertise in aviation and the ability to speak Russian fluently, nothing wrong happened to me there, and I remember the stay there as one of the best times in my life. I have never been so well off as I was there. They made me a teacher of Russian. I taught officers, not privates. According to the fashion of the day, all officers had to be able to speak Russian. Later on, I became the head of the observation and reporting unit. It was my responsibility to watch the sky and report all the planes passing it during the day. And because I knew all of our planes, and the foreign ones as well, so it was an easy task for me. I got a fortnight’s leave for reporting an American B49 bomber.
Section 19
Have you retained any habits from Siberia?
Haven’t you noticed from my accent and the way I fondly talk about Russians? I love them - but only those from beyond the Urals, not the European Russians.

These have soaked up the western rot, they like a better lifestyle, cognacs, clothes, American music. And the Siberians are a different type of people. Yes, you can divide Russia into two parts: the European one up to the Urals, and the Asian part beyond the Urals. You have to remember that the Asian Russia is inhabited entirely by the deportees – either under the Tsars or the Soviet rule. The only aboriginal peoples there are Kirghizes, Mongols and Kazakhs...
I like Russian music, I like singing in Russian. I don’t sing any more, I’ve lost my voice. When I was still at school, girls often asked me to sing for them during the breaks. They liked it a lot. The same was in the army. And Russian literature... I must tell you, I passed my final exams in the secondary school, but I think it was out of the teachers’ pity. If you look at the grades at my certificate, there’s only a D in Polish, but there is an A in Russian.

Was the language a problem?
The language, and the literature as well. I think I only know With Fire and Sword by Sienkiewicz. That is all!

Why is that so?
I don’t understand it. It is a foreign literature to me. And if you take Russian literature, you see, I still have several cases of books. I know all the Russian literature. When I was taking my final exams at the secondary school, the topic I had to write on was something about the Polish countryside on the basis of that book... Peasants by... was it by Sienkiewicz?
Section 20
No, Reymont.
See? At that time I was reading Sholohov’s The Quiet Don. It was also about peasants, but those from the river Don area, in Russia, the Cossacks. So I wrote what that Henryk Sien... Reymont wrote a bit, and then I started writing about Sholohov. I described the peasant there, how hard their lives were under the Tsar, about collectivisation. At that time, I was the head of the local ZMP (a pro-communist youth organisation) unit. One of the members of the examination board was the head of the district unit of the same organisation, he was a friend of mine. Now, the Polish teacher says to the other members of the board, “This essay should not even be taken into account, it is entirely off the subject. It is all about Russian peasants, about kolkhozes.” At which the Head of the Board stood up and said, “Comrades, maybe it is off the subject, but he wrote about another vital issue. What difference does it make whether it is about the Polish or the Russian peasants?” They wouldn’t object to what he said. If they had, the Security would know about it instantly, especially that 95% of the teachers didn’t belong to the party. So everybody backed him, and so I passed.

Tell me about how you started a family of your own here.
Oh, family... Well, I first left the army, and I worked in the local food co-operative. I met a nice girl there, but she is dead now, we got divorced in 1955. Our daughter still lives, her name’s Alicja, and she lives near Walbrzych, she married the Klodzko prison manager. Then I got married once again. I’ve got a son of that marriage, but I got divorced again. And now I’m on my own. And that’s all. The reason is, you know, it’s my character; I used to drink a lot. I don’t any more, for two years now. I liked company, I liked seducing girls, you didn’t care if you were married or not, engaged or not.
Nowadays, as you would call it, I settled down. I don’t think things like that become someone at my age. Having worked for 50 years, I’m now retired. I’ve got a small pension [looks for a receipt]: 966 zlotys, including all the bonuses, radio and TV for free, electricity at a lower rate, half-priced public transport - but I don’t travel anywhere. Only once did I go abroad, to Byelorussia, I’ve got relatives there; my cousins live there. I feel better there; I talk to people differently there. Spiritually, my home is beyond the Urals, I spent so much time there. If need was, I went to Baykal Lake. If need was to go Irkutsk, I would go to Irkutsk, why not? I was once offered a holiday in Italy. Stuff your Italy, I said. Oh, I would gladly go to Vladivostok, to Baykal. If someone offered me a trip there, I would go any time. Only there; to meet people there, to talk to them.
When the Red Army was leaving Poland, for about a month they were here in the marketplace; they were selling guns, ammunition, grenades. I made friends with them. I was never sober, I didn’t have to spend a penny, but I always got to drink some vodka. They don’t use small glasses, like 50 gram glasses. They complain that Poles are a strange nation. [Looks for something in the wardrobe, takes out a Siberian hat.] See, there was an Uzbek, and he gave me this. He said it was a present from an Uzbek soldier. I liked it a lot, but everybody around would laugh. What kind of Mongol is that? they said. And this is a national hat in Uzbekistan. They all wear them. I wanted to pay. “No, it is a gift,” he said. I saw something wrong in his eyes. It was only then that I remembered the Siberian custom: when you are offered a gift, you never offer to pay for it. It would be as if I were trying to buy friendship.
Section 21
What about living in the mountains, what does that mean to you?
Oh, no... I hate it! I came here in 1946, got out of the train and I could see nothing. When I was living a bit higher, there was some space I could see and enjoy, but here, in the valleys! Stuff it up your ass, such a country! I think it is what you soak up when you are 13 to19 that is the most important to you. What you get used to then, will stay with you forever. I got used to the Siberian climate, the terrain there. When I first came here in 1946, there was a cold winter; I would go out only wearing a light coat. People looked at me as if I were crazy. I didn’t even wear a hat in –30 degree frost.
I liked having a bath in the river. Especially in the winter. There was even a photograph of me having a bath in the newspaper. They didn’t quote my name though, they didn’t know who that was. But water, in a hole in the ice, is not a problem for me. But I have to be absolutely naked. If I get into the water in underwear, it will freeze when I get out. I won lots of money on bets in winter, you know. People would bet I wouldn’t get into the water. They would bet sums like 1000 zlotys. At that time it was a lot of money, people would earn 1500 a month. There was 1.5 metre thick ice on the river. I told them to take a rope. Why a rope? they said. Whoever loses the bet can hang themselves, I would answer. There is one place on the Nysa river, where the current is very fast, the river is deep and it never freezes there. However cold it is, the water still whirls there. Why a piece of rope? So that the water doesn’t flush me under the ice when I get into it, no swimmer will stand the current. I spent three minutes in the water, stark naked; a PT instructor from the local school measured the time. I couldn’t stay in the water for any longer, the organism would have got cooled down, and it could have been harmful. I got out of the water; they gave me some vodka to warm me up. They were all dying of cold, and there I was stark naked, on the snow. And the snow seemed warm like a quilt then. I drank the glass of vodka, put on my underwear, got dressed. I stopped those baths in the frozen river because children started making fun of me, pointing their fingers at me. So I gave up, but I think I still could...
[end of conversation]