Poland glossary










Bystrzyca Klodzka


July 1999



Section 1
What’s your name?
Stanislawa Wasowicz.

When were you born?
On 7 November 1931 in Nieswierz, in the eastern borderland, Province of Nowogródek.

What’s your maiden name?

What’s your profession?
I graduated from the Public Secondary Vocational School, clothing department, in 1950.

Tell me, please, a few words about your childhood.
I can reach as early as three years old, cause that was the time I went to the kindergarten. Later, my father was transferred to Lan, on the soviet border. I lived in the housing estate of Lan, 7 km away from Nieswierz. There, I went to the kindergarten and then went to school. I had a friend from the Radziwill family (famous Polish aristocrats), they liked me a lot. We were the same age, so they decided, in that family, that they would take me with her every holiday to theirs, to those palaces. Obviously, I had to have my own nanny, I had a room of my own. I felt wonderful there, although I was a little uneasy among those intelligent people. We played together. That was in the Radziwill family. The next year, I was taken on holiday by another land owner family, also very rich, the name was Zolnierkiewicz, they were of the Orthodox religion. They took me to theirs, they liked me very much as well. My friend’s name was Irenka. They arranged a Catholic chapel in my room for me, and I could pray there. When they were going to their Orthodox Church services, they would take me home, to my parents and I went to church with them. Those were the holidays, the last holidays before the war broke out.

What are your memories of your parents?
My mom was very beautiful. She had knee-long, black hair. My sisters, one was born in ‘27 - Helusia, the other was born in ‘28 - Zofia. They were beautiful girls as well. They had long, plaited hair, it was my father’s influence, for the girls to have long plaits. I was the only one who had rather thin hair, so I just had short hair and usually tied them. Mother looked after us, clothed us nicely, looked after the household. She did a lot of embroidery, she was an excellent cook. On winter evenings, she would sit and sew or embroider.
Section 2
What did your father do?
On the Soviet border, he was in the army.

Would you say you were well-off?
Quite, we did quite alright. Until ‘39, when the war with the Germans broke out, we were not that much affected because we were living on the eastern borderland. Only when the Russian Army invaded us on 17 September. They divided Poland in half and shared it between themselves, the Russians and the Germans. Until that time, my childhood was carefree.

Do you remember any of your childhood plays?
I remember us playing in the kindergarten. Until this day I remember fragments of songs, like “Let’s go altogether to the forest, to the forest, mushroom picking, it’s time for mushroom picking...” I don’t remember any more of it. Or the poem “Mother hen went to the market place, to buy her chick some raspberries. They will make a jelly, both sons and daughter will eat it. The mother cooked it for four hours, raspberries got burnt, he hurt her hands touching the pot.”

What was the village you lived in like?
It was a settlement, a large village. I don’t remember exactly how many houses there were. There was an Orthodox church, we had to go to church in Nieswierz, 7 km away from Lan. People were very friendly, quite well-off. Some were poor as well. It was quite an exceptional village.

Where did those well-off people work?
In farming. In our village, there was a district office, a school, police station, not far from us, there was a border guard station, there was a post office.

What was the educational system?
We went to school until we reached the seventh grade, then we went to the secondary school in Nieswierz.

Did all the village inhabitants send their children to school? Did they want to have them educated?
Yes, they did. Some were quite clever and promising. My sister did only six grades and was able to apply for the secondary school. She went to Klecko to buy books, she was getting prepared. There was one poor family, they had twelve sons, they were exceptionally promising. Three of them came to ours for dinners. My mother decided to help them that way. She supported them, gave them clothes or shoes, sometimes father’s uniforms.
At that time, there was no butcher’s, my mother led a village life, and my father didn’t want to buy anything, he claimed everything had to be hand made by yourself. So my mother was such a housewife, she could do everything. And, of course, she shared some with that poor family.
Section 3
What was the last year before the war like?
I finished my first grade at school. The holidays were quite pleasant, as I said, and on the first of September, I went to school, to the second grade. But when the Bolsheviks entered, they moved us to the first grade in the Byelorussian language. I went to the first grade until we were sent to Siberia, that was in April.

Can you speak Byelorussian?
I think I remember a poem in Byelorussian [at this point the narrator recites a poem in Byelorussian].

What did the break out of the war bring about in your life?
My happy, carefree childhood was broken by the news about the Nazi German invasion of Poland on 1st September 1939. Nobody could predict what mayhem that would commence in my and my family’s life. On 17th September, the Bolsheviks came to the village of Lan, where we lived. On the same day, my father was arrested. It’s difficult to describe what we went through. Me, the youngest, my sisters, and of course, my mother. Within five days we were thrown out of our house. We were crushed, helpless and far from the closest relatives, an easy prey for the local police and NKWD (Russian Security Service). I will never forget the drama I went through. When the Soviets entered, Polish flags were being torn, which we received as if our own flesh was being torn to pieces. With no means and no hope to improve our living, we exchanged for bread everything that was of any value, both in the material sense and in the family treasures sense. Virtually in extreme poverty and morally broken, we lived till that memorable day of 13th April 1940. At 3 o’clock a.m., we heard loud knocking on the door. The door of the flat we lived in then was broken. Entered policemen, NKWD officers and border guard soldiers. We were helpless. My mother fainted. We were overwhelmed by desperation and helplessness. We could not imagine what was going to happen to us or what was still to come. We were given 30 minutes to pack the most necessary things. We were supposed to pack all the belongings gathered in 18 years. If it hadn’t been for the neighbours’ help, we would have been taken away in the night gowns.
We were put on sledges and transported to the railway station in Horodzieja. There, we were put in cargo trucks, unsuitable for carrying people in the journey that took several days to distant Siberia. When they had locked the door, the windows were barred, I started crying like mad, yelling. I started suffocating. There was something in my chest, as if the heart was going to break. I cried, “Mom, mom, I’m suffocating, I can’t any more.” And I didn’t stop until my mother took me in her arms and hugged me. That lasted for about two hours. Then I got this terrible fear of everything. It was very crowded there, there were too many people. I developed this nervous condition - claustrophobia, which has stayed with me until today. They packed as many as 40-45 people into one truck, women, men and children, even toddlers. There were no toilets or medical help, no way. Those who didn’t live through the deportation hardships were thrown out of the truck, without any possibility of burying them. Such was our journey, marked with the dead corpses of Poles, back in 1940. After two weeks of such journey, we reached the Petropavlovsk station, where lorries took us to Woloszynka, 150 kilometres away from the station. When we reached the kolkhoz (farm cooperative) in northern Kazakhstan, they put us into a shed. There, we were as if put on exhibition, people living there came to watch what they thought were the worst enemies of socialism. In such conditions it was extremely difficult to find a job in kolkhoz or find a place to live in the dug-outs.
Section 4
Where did you live then?
At one Russian woman’s. There was terrible hunger. She had some bread she’d baked, they ate it and there was a piece of crust lying on the table. I couldn’t sleep all night, cause all the time I was thinking about that crust, I wanted to get up and eat it. Every time I approached it, and reached out to take it, I was so scared that I couldn’t. The fear was stronger than hunger. I was afraid that next day that Russian woman could throw us out, she might have left the crumb there on purpose, as a sort of provocation, and it was in the middle of winter.
I feared being hungry. I remember when we were coming back home, to Poland, my mother said, “My dear children, I don’t even have a piece of dry bread to give you, we have eaten everything.” And just then, I think it was a miracle that happened, some sort of God’s providence, cause someone started shouting, “Szeptycka, Szeptycka!” And those ladies we were in the carriage with said, “Look, there’s someone calling you.” And mom said, “Who could that be, I don’t have any relatives here, in the borderland?” And that was a farmer at whose we lived on the border, we had three rooms at his, that was before the war. He had found out when the last transport of Poles was coming, cause he had been out waiting for us several times before when the transports came, and he had 25 km to the station. And he brought us white and black bread, some sausages, some pork fat and some linen and things... God, when I saw that bread, I had some white bread in one hand and some black bread in the other, and would take a bit of one and then a bite of the other, I didn’t know what to do. And until this day, I always carry a piece of bread with me, even if I go to the theatre, there always is a piece of bread in my handbag. There must be something encoded in my brain, I fear hunger, I always think that if there’s no bread it’s a tragedy. At home, if there’s just a small piece left, I panic that there is no bread. It is terrible for me.

What did you eat back there, in Siberia?
When there was no bread, we would eat pigweed, we ate sorrel, nettles, you could cook some soup from them, made it thicker with something. Sometimes you ate potatoes, but you had to go to the kolkhoz to earn them. They said, “That who doesn’t work, doesn’t eat either.” Even children had to work, I worked too. I made kiziaki. That’s made from cow’s dung, such brick-like forms, you had to press it with your bare feet. My feet were sore and covered in wounds, cause it was hard sometimes, I cried with pain. You had to tread those kiziaki into special moulds, get it out like a brick, it dried out and it was used as fuel in the ovens. When I came back from school, I had to do certain jobs in the kolkhoz and in the forest. Taking water out of the wells, it was hard work too, cause the wells were over 20 metres deep. You used such a spin with a line or with a chain. Then you put the water into such huge barrels. I was small, 140 centimetres tall, maybe less, very thin. And I had to put the water from 10-litre buckets to those barrels. It was very hard work. And later, in the summer, I had to help with grain weeding, we had to get rid of those thistles, all those weeds. There were whole rows of us weeding the fields, for which we got some soup. All the grain, all the products were sent to the front line. The northern Kazakhstan alone supplied all the front lines.
Section 5
What was winter like in Siberia?
Winters were just terrible. Perhaps I’ll start with the summer. Well, the summer was very short and hot, I think it’s for the grain to ripen quickly, wheat, potatoes, sunflowers, beets, apart from that there were no vegetables, no fruits grew there. Winter started in September, at the end of the month. Winters were very cold and snowy. Those dug-outs could be covered with a 3-metre layer of snow, sledges were passing over the roofs, the only thing you could see was the smoke coming from such a dug-out. We had to dig tunnels to get out of it. When I was still asleep, and my mother and my sister knew I would cry like mad when I woke up, they would dig this tunnel so that you could see the sky. And so when I woke up, and you could see the sky, I felt better. The temperature dropped well below -50 degrees Centigrade. It was very quiet then, no wind. If you poured water into the air, it would fall down as ice. And so it lasted till May. Then it all melted quickly, the ground absorbed all the water, cause the summers were extremely dry. There were no floods. We lived in a flat land, there was no river nearby. The nearest river was 75 km away so it was very far. Only flatlands and forests, but only deciduous trees, there were no conifers at all. There were no fruits, no fruit trees either, absolutely none, cause they wouldn’t grow there.
There was this man, Wanka, and he had an apple, and he took it to the kolkhoz in which I lived, the Waraszylow kolkhoz, village of Woloszynka. He took that apple and went through the village, and he sliced that apple and gave everyone a thin slice so that everyone could see the taste of an apple.

How did you protect yourselves against the winter?
We put shawls on our faces, so that you could see only eyes. People living there are accustomed to such low temperatures. We were not. We wore those Kyrgyz caps, it was not far to Kyrgyzstan. Those people there thought that the Tsar was still in power, and it was already Stalin. They thought all the land belonged to them, not to the Soviet Union. When you went mushroom picking or berry collecting, you could walk as far as tens of kilometres. And they would chase you with axes saying that you couldn’t pick mushrooms on their land. In winter of ‘42, my mother went to get some salt, as it was very hard to get by. As if it was not enough that there was nothing fat, no meat or bacon, we didn’t have salt either, that was a tragedy. My mother had some things to exchange and she went with other kolkhoz workers. They were going to Petropavlovsk, 150 km away, in ox-drawn sledges. Two weeks there and another two weeks back. She got 16 kg of salt. She had to keep it locked so that no-one could get hold of it.
One of the kolkhoz workers who went there, came back so happy about what he had seen back in Petropavlovsk. He saw a steam engine, he said, a huge steam engine “vililijna a okonczyki”, he said, “a kolesa ojojoj.” Well, people who were living there, those who were born there and died there, they didn’t see the world at all, no light, no electricity, no railway nor a river.

What were the people who lived there like?
Even before that, under the Tsar, Poles were sent to Siberia, so there were even Polish names: Zawadzki, Zabudzki, there was a village called Zapolska, some 10 kilometres away from us. And there were Ukrainians, Russians, Moldovians, Kyrgyzs, Chechens, Tatars and others.
Section 6
Were they hostile towards Poles?
No. People helped each other a lot. Kyrgyzs liked Poles very much. My mother would sometimes go, she walked some 75 km a day, to do some exchange, a dress, our school uniforms for a some grain or potatoes. They always received her well, offered her tea, something to eat. They were very friendly towards Poles.

What did your stay in Siberia mean to you?
For over six years that we spent there, we lived in constant stress and helplessness, with little hope to be able to survive and come back to our beloved country. Thinking about coming back to Poland was the realm of dreams, and you couldn’t be sure it would ever happen. When the news about our father being murdered in Katyn only added to the tragedy we had enough anyway. That’s how we were when we started the new life back in Poland. When we finally got back on 1st of July 1946.

What do you feel about your stay in Siberia?
I pity I lost my childhood, I had to go through such a terrible nightmare, I saw people who were close to me die in winter, and there was no way to dig a grave for them, only a whole in the snow was dug and they put those boxes containing corpses into it, so you can imagine that. Only thinking about it you feel it was too much. During transport, all the corpses were just thrown out without burial. Until the end of my days I will feel that awful hunger. Cause if you haven’t experienced hunger, you can’t imagine it. People got swollen because of that, and so whenever I pray to God, I ask for my family and everybody else to always have some bread. That’s why I always carry a piece of bread or a roll in my bag, I always carry it.

What was the worst experience you had in that period?
The worst thing was that we could move about only within a 50 km radius. The slightest misdemeanour was punished with a trial and prison, for example, if they caught you with two kilos of wheat, you could go to prison. We had to go collecting the grain ears in the fields in the evening, so that they wouldn’t notice us, cause we used that wheat to produce flour.

What happened when you got back to Poland?
When we came back to Poland, we had to undergo a quarantine. We had to get rid of the insects or whatever we’d brought. A three-day quarantine. They brought us to Rzepin, to PUR (Polish Repatriation Office), near the German border. We stayed in Rzepin for two months. They gave us some money in the form of a benefit or something. I still have my repatriation card. This was a document allowing us to leave the Soviet Union. Those who were Ukrainians or Byelorussians, they were not allowed out. They could only go to the places they originally came from or to other places within the Soviet Union. They were not allowed to go to Poland. Most of them stayed where they were. And there were Poles who were not allowed to come back, the land-owners. Later, there came a decision that we could all go wherever we wanted. Either to Szczecin or come here and settle in the recovered land, the south western parts of Poland.
We stayed there, in the PUR, for quite a long time, and we chose our destination quite by accident. My mother’s mother was still living, and she was in Warszawa. When we went there directly after the war, there were no conditions to live there at all , no flat no nothing. Mother’s cousin, who had been in a German camp near Strzelin, Stanislawa Bednarek, nee Chojnacka, was transferred from that camp to a camp in Bystrzyca, near the match factory. They left the camp and settled there. Her husband, Bednarek, was the first mayor of Bystrzyca. The uncle wrote to my cousin, Stasia Bednarek and she made us come to Bystrzyca where we finally settled. At first, I was staying at my uncle’s in Henryków near Warszawa. For a year I went to school there. And my mom with my two sisters went to Bystrzyca. One of my sisters, Zosia, stayed with a cousin in Miedzygórze, and Helusia stayed with aunt Bednarek and Mom. When I finished the school in Henryków, my mother took me here, to Bystrzyca, and I stayed here until this day.
Section 7
How old were you when you came here?
I was fourteen years old.

What were your impressions when you came here, to the mountains, straight from the flatlands?
I was shocked. I found the mountains most beautiful, I was so happy to have come here. When we were on the train coming here, my sister would say to me, “Calm down.” I lacked to words to express how enchanted I was. And the climate was quite different, so when I came here from the flatlands, I slept for three days and nights and they couldn’t wake me up.

What happened next in your life?
Well, I had to go to school somewhere. So I went to the pedagogical school in Klodzko, but I didn’t like it there. I left it after a month. From that school, I came beck to Bystrzyca, there was a boarding school for orphans and half-orphans under the auspices of OMTUR (Youth Organisation of the Workers’ University Association). So I went to that boarding school. It was on quite a high level. There were even professors from Warszawa coming to teach. They taught us sociology, such classes as, for example, French. It was a good school, wonderful accommodation conditions, cause we were taken care of by UNRRA (United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration). It was some sort of American organisation. We were quite happy there until the merge in December. Our organisation was a Christian one, with services and prayers, and they merged us with the atheist ZMP (Polish Youth Association - communist) and ZWN (?). My professor, when she found out that I’d joined the ZMP organisation, she came up to me, professor Chamiec did, she was the mother of that actor, Chamiec. She taught me French and Polish. She came up to me and said, “Stasia, what have you done? Your father would turn in his grave if he found out! What sort of organisation have you joined?” But we all had to belong to the organisation, otherwise we would have been expelled from school.

Did you have any special rights or obligations in connection with the organisation?
Times changed. It was no longer so good. The UNRRA gave us up. The boarding school started suffering shortages. But all that was for the idea, for Poland, so young people were enthusiastic about the reconstruction efforts. When I graduated from school, I immediately got a job. I tried to get to University to study chemistry, but the conditions I had made it impossible for me. I had to take care of my mother, support her, so I went to work at PAGET (name of a factory). Later the name of the institution was changed several times. I worked there for seven years. In accountancy. I was 19 years old when I started working there.
Section 8
When did you meet the love of your life?
I met my husband back at school. When I was going to school, back in 1949. We were engaged until 1953. We got married at the Registry Office on 6th July, the church wedding took place on 6th January 1954. I had two children: a daughter in ‘54 and a son in ‘61. My daughter graduated from a Agricultural Academy, now she’s a pedagogue. My son went to the university as well, but he gave it up, he’s in small business now.

Did you meet any Germans still living here, in this area?
No, I never met any, but they still lived here. Where we were living, there were no Germans. A lady from the office took my mother to Swierczewskiego Street, formerly it was Willowa Street, to such a very nice house. My mother looked at it and said, “I won’t go there if there’s still someone living there, I won’t cause anyone’s tears.” And she gave up that house. Later we were living in Rycerska Street in a two-room flat with a kitchen, no comforts.

Would you like to live somewhere other than in the mountains?

Well, I don’t know. I got used to it. I like the scenery. Wherever I look, there are those beautiful mountains, those streams. I don’t like the flatlands. Maybe it’s because back there, in Siberia, there were those terrible flatlands. I could see a kolkhoz which was 20 km away. No, absolutely, I wouldn’t like to live in flatlands, they bring back unnecessary memories.

Thank you for the conversation.