Poland glossary








former baker/hunter


Bystrzyca Klodzka


July 1999



My narrator was well prepared for our meeting and interested in the project. He’d put on a festive green hunter’s uniform. The room to which he invited me resembled a hunting museum. The walls were covered with trophies: various sizes of antlers, wild boars’ tusks, stuffed animals and birds. I also noticed quite a number of miniatures representing animals, people, pieces of equipment. Apparently, these exhibits are often hired out to museums or used in the designing of occasional exhibitions.

Section 1
Where and when were you born?
I was born in 1939 and I got deported from the Eastern Borderland (those parts of Poland taken over by the Soviets after the war). Those are the western parts of Russia, now Ukraine. I arrived in Poland as a small, six-year-old child. Here, we settled in the village of Stara Bystrzyca, where we stayed until 1960. I went to primary school in Stara Bystrzyca. Later, I went to a vocational school, food processing speciality. That’s although (despite) I wanted - cause all my life has been connected with nature, forests - to become a forester. But because the political situation was what it was, they were setting up kolkhozes (farm cooperatives), my parents dissuaded me from that, they said I would die of hunger in the forest, and being a baker I had at least the supply of bread assured. Knowing what life in a kolkhoz is like, they thought that was the solution for my life. I had already sent an application to a Secondary School of Forestry in Poznan, but I had to resign. Back then, they accepted candidates without entrance examinations. And so I spent my life in the vocational school training to become a baker.
I didn’t like the job because everybody had free Sundays but a baker had to work on Sundays too [laughs]. I was a young man then. Finally, I gave up being a baker, I got a proper job, and I tried to compensate my love for nature by becoming a hunter. That wasn’t easy, either. However, with the onset of Gomólka’s reign, it was possible for those willing to become hunters to purchase rifles. In 1956, everyone who wanted to become a hunter could obtain a gun permit. Unless you had some problems with the authorities.

What kind of area did you leave in the East? Was it mountainous as well?
No, no! It was Ukraine. That was near Stanislawów. It was just a bit hilly. That was the Karpaty Foreland. Not far away, where my parents would go to fetch fuel wood, that was already in the mountains. Those people there were referred to as Lemkis (native population of SE Poland).
Section 2
Did you have any problems getting accustomed to the new surroundings?
My ancestors have always been in farming. They had their farms in the East. The only thing was, when we came here, my father was in the army.

When you arrived here, were there still Germans living here?
Yes, at first, we were living in Kolonia. My mother said, “There are only Germans around.” We were the only Polish family. Including me, there were three brothers. I was in the middle, there was one older than me and a younger one. And my mother was scared of living among the Germans.

How were the Germans still on the Polish land?
Well, ‘45, until ‘46, and then they left this area. I remember one incident from that time. The Germans had children at my age, and parents went raking dry leaves to burn them later. There was such a quarry, such a hill, a cliff. We, the children, would carry those leaves on one heap and burn them. And I went to the bushes nearby and brought some wood as well [laughs and asks if it is being recorded]. Surely, the Germans must have carried guns and ammunition in those bushes. I rummaged through the bushes and I found ammunition there. Oh, well, I thought. You know, we were front line people, so I took that ammunition. The fire was on, so I said we’ll be shooting. and I put those shells into the fire, and said to Hans, my German friend, “Hans, Hans, weg! Weg!” As a child I spoke some German. Myself, I ran away and hid, but Hans wouldn’t. The shells started exploding and a shrapnel hit him in the head. The German women arrived, and they made a lot of fuss. “I told him to run away, but he wouldn’t!” They left their work and ran away. And we looked, and there was a lot of ammunition, two heaps, under the dry leaves. We were front line boys, so we knew what it was.

What were your relationships with your German neighbours?
The Germans hid everything so that we wouldn’t find it, and somewhere in the attic, my brother found a package, and a small sailor’s uniform, just big enough for our youngest brother. And my mother made him put it on. Oh! When that German woman saw it, she started wailing... I knew what was going on. When my mother came back from the church, I told her everything about what’d happened. And mother went to her, that German woman rebuked her so much. Later she said she was sorry, she didn’t know, but that uniform was her Martin’s.
We practically did nothing. The German woman’s husband was a sailor, I think. He had gone to the war and he hadn’t returned yet. She had some Czech servants. They had farms they called wycugs. It was a large farm on which young people worked. The older people had another, smaller household, a small house. They had one cow and there they lived till their old days. Those young people had large farms. In Silesia, it is still like that.
Dinner was always on the hour. They used horses and oxen to till the soil, they didn’t use any machines. They were so trained in being punctual and doing everything on the hour, that if an ox heard the hour being struck on the church tower, it knew it was supposed to leave the field. After the bell, you couldn’t make it plough even a bit more. It knew it had to leave the field, get fed, come back and finish work. At six o’clock, everyone left the fields, they washed; some went to the inn, some others would read books and do other things. And even if there was thunder coming from the sky, they wouldn’t change their routine. In the morning, they got up at five o’clock, prepared the horses, went to the field at eight, and twelve, they came back to feed the animals, at three, went back to the field again, and knocked off at six. That was their routine.
They were different from Poles in that respect. A Pole will work until 10 o’clock at night, and will stay in bed until later in the morning, or get drunk. This is the mentality. In the past, there were three to four inns in a village, two to three mills, small factories, people had jobs all the time. For example, in the summer people worked in their farms, in the winter they would get employed in such factories. They made their living, everybody profited from that. Now nothing pays. I can’t get to grips with that. Until late 1980s - at least part of this mountainous land was tilled. Nowadays, wherever you go, you see untilled land. And the forest doesn’t wait. In Rózanka, a late hunter cut down a large part of the forest. So we went there - other hunters - to plant trees, as such a cooperation. I went there recently, to pick some berries and I saw the forest growing. It’s satisfying to know that I participated in growing those larch trees. The forest I planted grows and the wind hums in its branches.
Section 3
How did you get to love the nature so much?
Living in the country. As a small boy I often went to the forest. I skied - cross country - and met a lot of animals on my way. And so I got fascinated with it. Apart from that, I think hunting was what I inherited from my ancestors, my grandfather was a hunter too. Before the war. It’s probably in the genes, so I went into hunting.

Do you see changes in the structure, the outlook of the forest, throughout those years?
The forest… In the 1940s, when we arrived here, the forest looked different from what it looks like now. The forest border was less regular, with lots of bays, semicircles, with tongues of forest going into the fields. That was because the local inhabitants owned farms and the forests were often a part of those farms, it was their private property. After the agricultural reform, the state divided forests from the fields. The fields were given to farmers as a hereditary tenure as a part of the reform. And all those enclaves, farming land within the forests, were simply covered with trees - either naturally, or nature was helped by man. It was a mistake in a way, cause only spruce trees were planted there. And you know, the spruce has very shallow roots, now the tilled soil does not keep them as firmly as untilled land, so if there are strong winds - and there are strong winds - those trees get uprooted because the roots don’t have anything to hold on to. True, they grow very quickly, partially because they’ve got fertile soil to grow on, but they fall quickly as well.

What do you think, are natural calamities nature’s revenge or just the normal way things turn?
There is this saying: We weren’t there, there was a forest - we won’t be there, there will still be a forest.” I think there’s too much human interference in the forest. Old trees, like ash trees, maples and beeches, feel well in their natural habitat, and no storm will do anything to them. But in the areas in which man has interfered, a small- scale storm can do a lot of damage. There were no large-scale forest fires then, either. We didn’t have so many losses in this area, only occasional, totally harmless fires of the forest undergrowth. Some damage is caused by strong mountain winds. Especially in the spring, when the snow melts, the ground is soft and trees are not so strongly fixed to the ground with their roots. The most recent calamity I remember, was in ‘56. Such a strong hurricane swept this area, that a lot of large, strong trees got uprooted. It took 5 years for the forest to make up for the losses.
Sometimes, there are also calamities of abundance. I witnessed it myself observing solitary spruces growing on field boundaries. In ‘80, there was such an abundance of spruce cones. The spruce was covered with cones so much that it was unbelievable. You couldn’t see anything but the cones. And so it happened. The tree exploited itself out, yielded so much fruit that it died. I was extremely surprised, I didn’t know how that could happen! [thinks for a while]. Talking about calamities. The more serious calamities - maybe it is connected with human activities - are connected with there being so many pests in the forest. You go into the forest, it looks pretty and healthy, 50 to 60 year-old trees, they look alright, they’re green. Then spring comes, and the bark goes off the trees. It turned out that they had been attacked by pests.
In the past the forest was taken care of. The forest boundaries were kept tidy, they belonged to private owners, farmers and they looked after it. The farmers had construction material, they could sell the timber. The timber processing was extremely well organised around here. In the village I live, there were three timber processing plants. For example, there was a factory which manufactured beer coasters. Now it is coming back. But for how many years this processing has been neglected! Besides, it is a political matter I wouldn’t like to go into, that’s beside the point.
Coming back to the pests infecting the forest. People are to blame, I mean the state, cause private owners have been deprived of the influence over the forest. And the forest has been given to incidental authorities. After the war, if a forest had a proper forester, knowing its profession, that forest could consider itself lucky. But incidental people, appointed from the party key (?), were released from the army and appointed foresters in the mountains, so that the authorities didn’t have to do with them, to keep them quiet. I personally know an instance where the forester knew nothing about his job, he would cut all the dry trees, because he was told so by someone. When a larch tree lost its needles, he saw that a whole larch areas had become barren, he sent workers to cut them down. And so they did. The supervising forester arrived and asked, “What have you done?” and he said, “You told me to cut down all the dry ones, so I did.” “You jerk, those were larches!” they laughed. Such people supervised the forests and they didn’t know how to. And a forest, if properly managed, can yield a lot of profit.
Another calamity is the mud level in forests. In the past, forests were watered by rain, the weather regulated it. If there is a lot of water after rain, it does not meander, but goes straight down to the river, it ploughs the ground and runs away from the forest so as to reach the river as soon as possible. And if water runs away from the forest, it is not good, either. This may also cause floods. I’ve noticed that they have started thinking about it. I remember that where I used to live, there had been farming grounds, and now there is a muddied forest - alders, birches, spruces with their roots above the ground. This calamity has been caused by man. Especially because they didn’t know how to regulate the water deposits in forests - especially in the mountains.
Section 5
You mentioned the changes in the mountainous landscape, especially the forests. Are any plant or animal species that have disappeared?
The first tree species to have disappeared from this area was the elm. Nobody knows what happened to it, it was some sort of disease, it lost all the leaves, all the bark, only barren trunks pointed to the sky. And I haven’t seen its return until this day. It disappeared from the local landscape some time in the 1970s. Now something strange is happening to the beech and the oak. In the past I thought that nothing could possibly happen to an old beech tree or an oak. Now something is going on, because they are beginning to dry out from the top. Perhaps it is caused by excessive dampness. Sometime, in the spring, there are such terrible caterpillars appearing on the oaks. One day I noticed them I thought, what could that be? When I looked closer, I noticed a whole heap of caterpillar manure under the trees. But then starlings arrived and they did (eat) the caterpillars.
As far as animals go, in the 1940s, there were no wild boars or stags. These were private forests and everybody could own a gun, everyone looked after their part and wouldn’t let strangers in. Some forests belonged to the state as well, I think. Goering would come here hunting. The hostel in Spalona used to be his hunting hut. The state forests were fenced in. What animal species can be found here? Well, the stag, wild boar, fox, hare, wild fowl. A rare species that could be come across here was the black grouse. When I was studying to become a hunter, I read a book on the Eastern Borderlands, how they hunted the black grouse.
One day, I was hunting, on skis, and I incidentally went to Huta. It was very frosty then, and it had just started to get dark. I was on my skis, going slowly, and suddenly something jumped up and flew from beneath my skis, and I thought, what could this be [tells the story like a professional actor, making faces, gestures]. Only later, I guessed that it had been a black grouse. The black grouse, when strong frost approaches, dives into the snow, so that it wouldn’t freeze to death. And so I guessed what it had been. It was the first time that something had happened to me that I had read about in books. The black grouse disappeared in the 1970s. I remember a few specimens that moved to the meadow between Szklarka and Bystrzyca. I even went to look after them for about four years. They even had young ones. Later, they were building the power plant in Mloty, and they erected electricity pillars just there. Nobody thought it could threaten wild fowl. Because what happens is, a bird approaching sits on the ledger between the two poles and is electrocuted. On a damp day, the wings are kept wide spread, it gets killed.
One day a guy came up to me and said, “Look what I’ve found.” “Where did you find it?” “Under the high voltage wires.” Impossible, I said. I was into preparing stuffed animals, so I cut that one through, but I found nothing. Only later, I noticed that the wings were burnt underneath. And then I discovered what the reason of its death was... A lot of hawks, stalks (storks?) - I found dead bodies under the wires. All of that a consequence of neglectful human activity. I wrote an article about it to the hunters’ magazine and I pointed out that barbarian killing of protected bird species [shows an article in the magazine]. I’ve got one black grouse as a souvenir. I shot it in the 1970s and I stuffed it myself. Back then, we hunted the grouse regularly [shows a beautiful stuffed bird, with black feather, with a red cap].
It’s been 35 years now that I’ve been a hunter, every year I shot something. Now I don’t shoot any more, there is no place to hang the trophies. And shooting just for the sake of shooting is not what I’m into. It’s like murder. Any time that I hunt, I shoot just males, I don’t shoot females as a rule. I usually try to shoot the weaker specimens. There are certain criteria in shooting, too. That would be all about animals. There were periods of time that there were more of them, some periods when they were fewer. Now we’ve got problems with the hare. For some unknown reasons, there are so few of them. It maybe be because of the raven. Legal protection of all the raven-like birds has brought about the fact that the partridge and the hare are in great danger. The hare alone has the raven, the pie (magpie?), the cat, the man - all against itself. I remember one she-cat. She had young kittens. One day, she brought in three little hares. Then I said, no, you’re not going to do it any more. The sentence? Death penalty and that was it! [we laugh together] That’s how the cookie crumbles, there was nothing else I could do then. Man has a huge influence. Nowadays the poachers feel free to do whatever they want in the forest.
Section 6
What does the phenomenon of poaching look like now, and what did it look like before?
It was there and still is. As a 15 to16 year old boy, I often went cross-country skiing in these forests. Sometimes I would go along a well trodden path and get into some sort of wires - many a time I would fall, my leg was almost torn away from the body. Apparently someone was poaching there. You came across dead deer on the wires, bestially strangled and not taken away. Because if it is done for the lack of money, means to live, if you need meat, it is natural, you have to live somehow. But the worst thing is they will kill those animals and leave them. It happened many times to me.

Has anyone been caught red-handed?
Once my friend and I caught a poacher in Gorzanów. He had just poached a roe-deer. We went to his with the police and we found meat-balls on the frying pan, meat in the fridge and two of them busy. But as it is considered low on the scale of socially harmful activities, they were let off with just minor fines. Some other time, I came across a poacher hunting hares, riding motorbikes, with dogs. I was sitting on the edge of the forest in a high hide, waiting for a wild boar. And suddenly I saw those three on the meadows - it was in the autumn - I thought they were racing or something. Three on motorbikes. And I looked and I saw there was a hare running away from them, chased by a dog. Then I remembered I had seen such races before. I looked through the binoculars and I saw that one of them already had a hare tied to his seat. And I thought, “I will teach the bastards a lesson. Stop or I’ll shoot.” I shot into the air and they rode into the cornfield, only the smoke was left behind them [laughs]. That’s what it’s like with the poaching.
[My narrator suggests looking at some photographs in the album. The pictures showed members of the hunting club, celebrations, events organised by the hunters. Many pictures showed the prey of those hunting parties, for example, a shot wild boar being guarded by a dog. Numerous pictures showed the family: three sons hunting with the father, the wife, sitting next to baskets full of mushrooms and berries.]
Section 7
Are people emotionally attached to the forest? How did it use to be, how is it now?
Practically nothing has changed. In the past, people had less access to the forest because of the fact that there was no transport. Today, everyone has a car, they can travel from one place to another at any time. I think that today, people use the blessings of the nature more often then they used to in the past.

And the forest resources in the form of game, mushrooms, berries etc. Have they changed or not?
As far as animals are concerned, there are hardly any changes because apart from the poachers over whom you’ve got no control, there are hunters, and they have to follow certain criteria, hunting clubs’ regulations. And as far as mushrooms, berries - well, my wife and I, we went to the forest on Monday, and we found a lot of berries.

How did your wife get to accept your constant being in the forest?
My wife’s attitude was sometimes negative, especially when our children were small, and the husband was out of the home. Now she’s got used to it. That’s the way it should be and that’s all.

Do we still have four seasons of the year?
You could say, in the 1960s, it was so warm in January that farmers would go ploughing. I remember playing football barefooted in February. It must have been in the 1950s. Also in the 1950s, at the end of March, I went swimming in a quarry after playing football; the day was so hot. Nature - despite anything that can be said about it - has its own seasons independent of the industry.

What do you think is the influence of acid rains?
Acid rains... This phenomenon could be seen most in the 1970s and the beginning of 1980s. Not only acid rain, also the snow was contaminated with some chemicals. I noticed in several places up in the mountains, where the snow would stay longer, that grass does not grow there any more. It means there must have been some sulphuric compounds in the snow, something that burnt out all the vegetation. I was surprised, didn’t know what that could be. Only after three years, I came across a similar phenomenon. There was a snow drift, and now nothing grown on that spot. The vegetation was as if burnt out with something. Now it’s back to the norm. You can see that the trees grow much healthier and there aren’t as many acid rains as before. I can see that in my garden as well. It was terrible. After a heavy rain, everything would turn black in the garden. You could see that also observing the walnut tree.
The microclimate of this area is very interesting. Notice that in the rest of the country [when] you’ve got summer heat, it is cold here. You can notice such a moment when the air isobars radiate in various directions from here. This is what brings about the influx of air from above the North Sea. It goes through Germany, Denmark and it stops in the Sudety. That brings about meteorological fixations. If you have a look at the weather map - the rest of Poland is cold, it will be hot here, and the other way round. The climate here is very specific and you can feel that. I observe it, the changing weather all the time, it is brought about by the decades of planets’ positions. I’m not saying that it’s solely the influence of acid rains or the industry.
I have always opposed ecologists who assault people wearing natural furs. The [ecologists] are sent by the companies producing artificial furs. After all, the production of an artificial fur damages the environment more than breeding a fox or hunting one in a natural way. And this fur get neutralised in a natural way. It is simply absorbed by the environment. On the other hand, artificial fur cannot be destroyed. Some time ago, I put a piece to a compost container, and it turned out that it cannot be destroyed. It will be there for ages.
Section 8
Why do young people decide to leave the country and move to the towns?
Farming is declining in the mountains, young people look at the old ones and say, what do they now have from the farming? Wild boars will destroy everything, foxes will steal your chickens. Talking to local farmers, I’ve come to the conclusion that partially young people didn’t see any chance of staying behind because the abundance of game seriously damaged their farms. In the past it was different, cause the farming ground had its price and now nobody pays any attention to it. But I think it will come back some day. Although it will be difficult to bring back to life what’s been devastated. The forest quickly spreads on the untilled grounds. First, it is the birch, then the spruce, the alder and the beech. I don’t understand the way the forest economy is organised on the national level. It is as a state within a state, nobody knows who’s responsible for what. You’ve got forest area authorities employing lots of people. The forest is a simple thing after all. There is the forester. He organises everything in that part of the forest he’s responsible for, and he knows, he’s a specialist... The forest requires a manager who would know where what should be planted, what cultures where. It has been organised quite badly by the state. Now there are talks about the need to privatise the forests. The forest must not be privatised, it has to be given to people.

How do you find living in these mountains?
I am almost a local here by now. I was six when I arrived, and the 54-year period is a long adaptation period. Some time ago, I was thinking about leaving, when I noticed I was getting old. There were rumours that the German inhabitants of these areas had to be exchanged every 25 years. They went to flatlands, where [there were] sands, a milder climate, but that was probably because of the radioactivity of uranium. And it’s difficult to live long years if you’ve been here since childhood. But I’ve got so used to this place that when I go somewhere, like to the seaside or to the lakes, I like it there, but I miss this neighbourhood.

What would you change to improve your life, your relatives’ lives?
I blame the system, because in the previous period I even had to stay two years in the sixth grade because I hated ideological stuff thrown into education. In the 1950s, they introduced those examinations to be held in grade 6 and grade 7 in the primary school. And the teacher told us to come on Corpus Christi day to practise the problems for those exams. I was a boy who was interested in everything. There was some time and I went to play football with friends. The lesson had started and after a while, the teacher sent a girl to fetch me. I said I would come in a while, just one more goal. The she came again: “Don’t bother me, it is a holiday, a day off, I’m not going.” And then the teacher came herself, she rebuked me thoroughly, but I said I wouldn’t go because only half an hour was left by that time. They contacted the educational board, my parents, and they didn’t let me take those exams. My mother tried to appeal at the educational board, but they said I was a social enemy and that was all, I acted against the school, the end of the world. But I didn’t care about it then, one year didn’t mean a thing.
But then I got to hate the system so much that later on, when I was an adolescent, we had those classes devoted to the constitution and the world today, I didn’t even have a notebook for that. Then I had problems because of that as well, but somehow I managed to pass the exam, got an A, but because I wouldn’t re-write the notes from anyone, my overall grade for the behaviour was lowered.
Now I don’t mind anything. I’m an old man now, a pensioner - surely, the money is scarcely enough to lead an adequate life, but I manage somehow. There are still some areas of life that people don’t understand. I often joked, because when I was a Town Council member, I used to say one could turn Bystrzyca into a separate state, a duchy with brothels and casinos, and the district would not have to ask for money anywhere, it would be self-sufficient. The town is so valuable, it could live off tourism.
We cannot change anything any more. We don’t have the necessary strength, but you, the young ones, should. You shouldn’t have other people think for you, you should think for yourselves. Help each other out instead of quarrelling. I have always said that a tree or a young man - if brought up according to the Bible - you don’t make any mistakes until you’re 18 years old. When you grow up and get to understand what religion is, what life is, you will think about every step you make. But if a young man is brought up without the Decalogue, then a man is debased to the level of animal instincts. Can’t tell bad from good. But if you carefully translate the Decalogue into life, then the man is really worthy. We could go on with this discussion...
Section 9
Thank you for the conversation.

20 May 1939 - born in the Easter Borderland
June 1945 - family deported from the East to Poland (narrator aged 6)
1955 - graduates from primary school
1958 - graduates from vocational school
1959 - 1961 - army service
December 1961 - gets married
1964 - joins the Hunting Association (performed various functions there: secretary, master of the hunt, hunting guardian)
1980 - one of the Solidarity founders in Bystrzyca paper factory
Voluntary worker - performed various functions: court juror, court councillor, representative to the Provincial Assembly
1997 - retires after 40 years of active professional life