Poland glossary








vice-president of Siberian Deportee Association




July 1999



Section 1
I arranged to meet Mr. Przeworski on Sunday, at noon. He and his wife received me warmly. They invited me into a sunny, clean and tidy living room. When I’d explained the aims of the project, Mr. Przeworski - before the interview started - wanted to know what kind of things I would be interested in, what character of questions I would ask. He had prepared various documents, materials and notes which were to make the conversation easier and help reconstruct the facts quickly. Mrs. Przeworska offered me coffee and cakes. My family and the Przeworski family know each other quite well, so after the interview, we chatted privately for a while.

At first, my narrator was tense and I was afraid it would be difficult to break through the barrier of officialities, but in time, the character of our conversation changed - he laughed, joked, but there were also moments when he was moved and cried.

Where and when were you born?
I was born in a farmer family in the east of Poland - in the former Rudki district, in Benkowa Wisznia to be precise, within the former Fredro land possession. At the beginning of the 1990s, I visited my home village - it was during the holidays - but the palace was closed for visitors. We could only peep through the windows.
Before the war, my parents lived in a former Fredro land possession, they had a farm of 10 hectares. My grandfather originally came from Rudki, and his grave has remained until this day there. When I was on a trip in 1990, I found my grandfather Antoni’s grave. I couldn’t find my grandmother’s grave, though. She died later than him and was buried elsewhere. He was the one who started buying land from the Benkowa Wisznia possession. He had quite a few children - he had three sons and one daughter, and was going to give each a piece of land. Two of his sons settled in Benkowa Wisznia - the youngest, Józef and Wladyslaw, older than him. The oldest son lived in Rudki. And so, Wladyslaw built a house in Benkowa Wisznia, and then the same did my father - Józef. Their farms neighboured on one another. Before 1936, father built everything by himself, and in 1936 he got married to my mother, who came from Gródek Jagielonski, also from a farmer family, and started running the farm together in 1936. I was born on 2 April 1937. My parents were quite well-off, they even employed workers all year round.

What kind of neighbourhood was that?
It was a flat land, situated on the banks of the river Wisznia - thus the name Benkowa Wisznia.
Section 2
What did people do then, what did they breed, plant?
Traditional crops - grain, potatoes; livestock - cattle and pigs - that’s what people did. My parents’ farm was always specialising in novelties, my father was one of the first farmers who started supplying the Rudki dairy with milk. At first, he brought the milk there by himself, later he started collecting it from other farmers. At first, he sold the neighbours’ milk as his, but when they started complaining that the quality had dropped, he told them, “If you want to sell the milk, do it yourself; don’t spoil my opinion.” And so they ran the farm until the war broke out in 1939.
When the war broke out, the Germans conquered that land, even without reaching Lvov (Rudki are almost 50 km away from Lvov). When the Germans had withdrawn - in accordance with the Ribentrop-Molotov Agreement - the Russian troops arrived, and it took only a short time for the farms to decline. By 1940 only a few farms were left, most of them had got looted. They took away whatever they felt like: cows, horses, whatever they liked. My parents, and especially my mother wanted to leave as there were rumours that the settlers would be deported. There were some retired army settlers, but the Russians treated everyone as an enemy of the nation, all because of the war of 1920. My mother was scared so she moved some of our belongings to her sister’s in Gródek Jagielonski. We were going to move there for some time, and leave the farm to itself.
One day, however, my mother’s cousin came, and together with my father, they were trying to convince my mother there was no point in leaving, if they were to deport you, they would, no matter where you were. And so she gave up the idea.
We stayed there until 10 February 1940. On that day, in the morning, the NKWD officers came [starts crying, can’t speak, apologises, the voice breaks, a moment of silence] and they took us to Siberia. They even took my father’s sister, who’d just come back from Argentina. She went there before the war, but somehow she didn’t like it there and she came back with three youngest children. The older ones stayed with their father in Argentina. Although she didn’t possess anything, she was just staying with us, they took her with the boys and a daughter. And so we were sent to Siberia. How was that organised? We were not given time to pack or anything, only 15 minutes. They wouldn’t even let my mother finish milking the cow. They drew her out of the cow-shed and told to prepare to leave quickly.
[Mr. Przeworski’s mother’s - who’s still living - diary, written in Bystrzyca Klodzka on 5 May 1991, reads: “Despite the short notice we were given, they won’t let us take anything along, they won’t even let me clothe my 3 year old son properly, I wrap him in a quilt, I hurriedly throw into it some parts of the child’s clothing, and so unprepared we are taken to sledges carrying the whole family to the railway station of Komorno Buczaly...]

They put us on those sledges and didn’t take us to the station in Rudki, although there was a railway line, but to Komorno (a station some 20 km away from Rudki). There, they put us to cattle trucks. How many people could they hold? My mother said, it was about 5 or 6 families. It was quite crowded.
Section 3
What did the journey look like?
In the middle, there was an oven, an iron oven. In one corner of the truck, there was a whole cut in the floor, for physiological needs. And there were double decker beds. In the middle, the truck was divided so that more people could be packed into it. If somebody died during the journey - either a child or a grown-up - they took the bodies and threw them into the snow drifts, without any sort of burial. Can you imagine the despair of those mothers or parents looking at how they treated their relatives. It was all very tragic.

How long did the journey take?
In such conditions, in the lowest temperatures, they carried us for a month. That is about 8 thousand kilometres. The route to Siberia we took: from Komorno, they took us to Lvov, where we were moved to wide track trucks, and then we went via Kiev, Briansk, Kaluga, Tula, Kolomna, Novosibirsk, Krasnoyarsk [uses the notes]. We reached the station in Tinsky on 6 March 1940. From there, we were taken to lagers (work camps). As it turned out, they had been ready since 1939. During the commotion, my mother lost contact with my father. Father and his sister were put on another sledge than myself, her sons and my mother. We finally found ourselves in Mizgranka settlement, and father was some 30 km away. After nearly a month apart, my parents finally found each other and we moved to Czysty Lan, where my father was, and we stayed there until autumn 1941.
When the German-Russian war broke out in 1941, the conditions for Poles improved. Especially when the agreement with Gen. Sikorski was signed. Poles were allowed to change their place of stay. As my mother told me, the Russians kept us there until autumn - partially through threats, partially through persuasion.
[A fragment of Mr. Przeworski’s mother’s diary: “Because with the outbreak of the German-Soviet war, Poles gained relative freedom and they are allowed to leave the taiga, we left our deportation place at the nearest convenience. The Soviet authorities managed to keep us there until late autumn, i.e. until the completion of forest work, where I worked collecting the resin, and my husband works in cutting timber or constructing barracks.”]

We left for the Novosibirsk region, and we stayed in the village of Topki. There, we stayed for the winter. My parents worked for the kolkhoz (farm cooperative) a bit, my father was a carpenter, he also knew how to build ovens, so they hired him a lot, and so we survived.

When you were a small child, what did you do?
I was on my own. I had only cousins, who were there with me, and a cousin on my uncle’s side, who was one year older than me. Unfortunately, he died tragically when we were still in Czysty Lan. He went down with a disease. There happened to be a doctor passing through the village. He prescribed him some medicine. When his mother gave it to him, he died within a few seconds. [cries] The uncle had to move away because I kept asking about the deceased cousin. They couldn’t stand it for I was reminding them about the child they had lost.
When we got to Topki, I met my mother’s cousins, Opalinskis, who lived in the same village as we did before the war. It was quite a large, multi-generation family. In their case, even the grandfather and the great-grandfather were deported with them. The young Opalinskis told me they were going to join the Anders’s Army (Polish army formed in the Soviet Union). My father discussed it with my mother, and he decided to join the Army as well. In Novosibirsk, there was a drafting point for that Army, and there we said goodbye to my father. As relatives of the Anders Army members, we were supposed to go south, near Alma Ata, in order to cross the border to Iraq, in order to get to Persia eventually. They organised transport in Novosibirsk, and we were again taken back along more or less the same route that we had done before, on the way to Siberia.
Section 4
What did the journey look like this time?
Well, the trucks were not locked, you could go out. It was a much freer journey. We were travelling by the Aral Lake. In early spring we reached a region, where there was a malaria epidemic. Those who were there - there were some Poles as well - warned us not to get out lest we should go down with malaria. They advised us to go north. From there, we went to Semipalatinsk, where we got off the train at the station of Zhengistobe (a small station situated in the mountains). In the meantime, some people went down with typhoid. My mother and myself suffered from typhoid for a month. When we left hospital, we could no longer proceed in the direction of the Anders’s Army meeting point, because in the meantime, the Katyn murder news had been published by the Germans. Then Russians denied us the freedom to move around and started treating us totally differently. We stayed in Gieorgievka until May 1946. In May, a mixed Polish, Russian and Jewish Commission was formed, and they issued permits to leave for the West, but only to those of Polish origin. Some of the people couldn’t leave Kazakhstan because of the various agreements, associations entered between the various nations. Some stayed behind of their own accord, for example, my mother’s cousin, nee Opalinska, stayed there because she had married a Russian, and until this day she lives in Semipalatinsk.

Did your families keep in touch, did you visit one another?
I met her here, in the 1960s. She had a brother in Parchów and she visited him.
At the station of Zhengistobe, we had to stay for about two weeks waiting for a transport. Part of the supplies that we’d prepared for the journey had been used up. The journey from Kazakhstan to Poland took one month. There were 4 families per truck. In our truck, there was my mother and myself, Opalinska with her two sons Ryszard and Michal, who’s now a priest, the Mazur family and some elderly couple whose name I don’t remember. My mother had a contact with her brother who lived in Gródek Jagielonski, he wrote her a letter that he’d left and went to the recovered land (areas in the west of the country that were added to Poland after World War II, previously belonging to Germany), in the village of Parchocin. That was the name of the village after the war. We decided to go to Wroclaw. At the Wroclaw Nadodrze station, my mother’s cousin met her husband, already demobilised from the army, and he took us to the then Kaczanów. We stayed there with his brother Michal, and from there, we went on to Parchocin, to my mother’s brother. There, we stayed for two years, until 1948, and it was there that we celebrated our first Christmas.

Were there any Germans still in the neighbourhood?
Yes, but we spent Christmas Eve dinner separately. We had good contacts with the Germans. Nobody was mistreated. When my uncle was still alive, he also had good contacts with the Germans.
In 1948, my mother met her second husband and we left for the new areas, to Nowa Bystrzyca. At first, we were living by the road bends near Kruk. We lived there until 1951. But the cow-shed collapsed there, some of the cattle were killed, and nobody renovated the buildings at that time, there was no money for that. Besides, in the 1940s, 1950s, there were still rumours that we would be coming back to the east. Later, my parents moved lower, near the Furniture Factory in Nowa Bystrzyca. There, I stayed with my parents until I got married, and later, with my wife, until 1965.
Section 5
You mentioned you’re a skier. How did that begin?
Well, it all started from me living in a mountainous area. When I was still in the primary school, I started learning to ski. And so it’s stayed with me.

Contacts with other young people, common interests...
When I was in the secondary school, I was interested in photography. Together with my friend, Andrzej Sierpinski, we took black and white pictures. We even had our own enlarger. Colour pictures were not made back then. In 1957, I went to Wroclaw, to the State Technical School, chemist speciality. I graduated form the school in 1960 and returned to Bystrzyca. I got a job in the Bystrzyca Klodzka Match Factory, in the laboratory. Because my relationships with the technical manager were not among the best, I decided to change my job, and I found a new one in the Bystrzyca Paper Factory, also in the laboratory. When I retired in 1992, I was a quality control manager.

When you first came here, how did you imagine your future life?
When we first came to the west, everybody - especially my parents - believed we would return to the east, where we lived before the war. We hoped that conditions would change, that it would be possible to return there. But when Gomólka came to power, people lost their hopes of ever returning there. Only then did the people get serious about organising their lives here. Construction work started here in the 1960s. I remember people talking all the time about returning to our own land.

Could you tell me some more about your visit to your homeland?
I went there with my mother and my cousin in 1990. It was a pilgrimage organised by the church - it was related to the opening of the church in Rudki and the second burial of Fredro. It was then that we visited Benkowa Wisznia and Rudki.

Did you notice any changes there?
The village changed for the worse. Rudki ceased to be a district town, now it belongs to Sambor. We also went to Gródek Jagielonski, to my sister’s mother, who was still living there. I went there only in 1976 for the first time, between February and March.

And what did Bystrzyca and its environs look like in the past?
When I first came here, Bystrzyca was just an ordinary little town. It’s changed now, it look a bit nicer. The Wojska Polskiego Street looks quite different now. At that time, there was an orchard next to the presbytery, and the land opposite Primary School No. 1 belonged to the church.
In Maly Rynek, there was a market, and every Friday farmers would come with their products. It was liquidated in nineteen fifty-something, and moved elsewhere, where there’s now the “U Michala” shop. I remember there was that person, very characteristically dressed, a man, he collected fees for the use of that market square from the traders.
All the villages around were full of people. Unlike today, when they are almost deserted, hardly anyone has any crops. In the past, it was all farming land, covered with crops, harvested on time. After the war, I must say, the farmers looked after their fields, the land that belonged to them. At the moment, in the villages in the direct vicinity of Bystrzyca, all the land is left untilled, all of which were tilled in the 1970s and 1980s. It all started with villages near the border, like Lasówka, Mostowice and Piaskowice - the dying out of the villages. Now the Germans and wealthy Poles buy that land, and they build summer houses there. In Nowa Bystrzyca, the houses that were devastated or burned down in fires in the 1940s and 1950s are now renovated.
Section 6
What happened to your house in Nowa Bystrzyca?
When they were constructing the power station in Mloty, we had to move out from the house - the one near the furniture factory. They were planning to turn the area into a transport base or electric warehouse for the power station. With the money I received I built a house in Lotników Street, so that my parents had somewhere to live. I was building it with the thought that one day I would move there as well. Now my children have grown and my son is going to live there with his family, and I will stay here.

Was tourism well-developed in this area in the past?
Shortly after the war, a lot of tourists came here for the holidays. Until 1952, some families, friends came for holidays to where my parents were living. There was tourism. Even after the war, it flourished. Everything went into decline when they started setting up kolkhozes in ‘51, ‘52 and ‘53. After 1956, there was some revival, even economic one. The farmers were taking over their farms again. But that revival didn’t last long. When Gomólka started making life more and more difficult, farming went into decline again. So here, in the mountains, agriculture has always had those ups and downs. At the moment - with the onset of the Solidarity governments - farming has collapsed altogether.

What, do you think, is the reason for that?
If a farmer has nowhere to sell their products, they will not till the soil. I talk to people who have large farms in Stara Bystrzyca. How can they till the soil if they have so many tonnes of grain that nobody will buy? They won’t.
We also had a small 3-hectare farm. My wife inherited it from her aunt. We gave up farming as well as there were problems with selling the crops. If you go in the direction of Polanica, all the fields by the sides of the road used to be tilled, now it’s all left for itself.

And the problem of alcoholism? Was it as worrying in the past as it is nowadays?
The problem of alcoholism has always existed here. When I was a child, when we first came here, there were, say, 2 or 3 drunkards always looking for a glass, but not to the point that young men should get drunk. It was a rare sight to see a young man drunk. Or smoking cigarettes. It was unthinkable. At the moment, you can see primary school kids smoking cigarettes. The problem of alcoholism is getting more and more serious, the age of drunkards is getting lower and lower. At present, you can come across drug addicts in Bystrzyca as well. We didn’t have them in the past. The problem develops in stages. When I was already an adult, I also smoked a bit, but I gave it up at a certain point, and until this day I haven’t smoked.
Section 7
How does the terrain shape around here influence your life?
I’ve got used to this area somehow, but when I went to Borne (a beautifully situated village, in the middle of pine forests) once or twice, I felt less tired. I can work physically there, and I don’t get tired so easily as I do here. There, I have a night’s sleep and I’m ready to work. I don’t know what it would be like if I moved there for good, but I always go there very willingly. I think a change of climate does you good. I would like to move there but my wife won’t [the Przeworskis laugh]

And how do you feel here - in the mountainous scenery? [to Mrs. Przeworski]
So, so. There’s illness after illness, but I manage.

Would you like to move away to some other regions of Poland, for example to Borne, that your husband likes so much?
Absolutely no. Certainly not to Borne. I’ve got this feeling that whatever I touch there, it’s sticky. I have to spend so much time cleaning up, and you cannot see the results. There’s a nail hammered onto another nail in the walls. [Mr. Przeworski interrupts his wife]
Everything was damaged there. When I first went there, I lived in truly spartan conditions - no hot water, no electricity, I was there on my own. And now, everything has been brought to a satisfactory state. We, our daughter, go there only for the holidays, so we don’t invest in the house too much.

Do you like to have a contact with the nature, with the forest?
In the past, my wife often went mushroom picking, she loves it a lot. She takes after her mother who was the best mushroom picker in the village. Recently, I started walking in the forest, I also learnt how to. We often went blueberry picking, brambles - I go to Szklarka every year. I’ve got my favourite spots there, I know where they grow. They are a bit fewer nowadays, there are more people, they tread on them. [laughs]
[Wife:] We like walking, if only we were of better health.

I’d like to ask you in what traditions were you bringing up your children?
We were trying to bring them up according to the Catholic religion. My wife and I come from Catholic families. Our daughter lives in Wroclaw, and the son is not far from us. We also have two granddaughters. The older one already goes skiing with me.
[Mrs. Przeworska suggests having a look at the family album, pointing especially at the pictures taken on mountain slopes, and talks about the grandchildren.]
Section 8
You are a member of the Siberian Deportee Association in Bystrzyca Klodzka, can you say a few words about your activities?
In 1946, there was a transport of Siberian deportees that arrived in Bystrzyca Klodzka. They were located around the district, some of them went to Miedzylesie, some to Ladek, and some settled in the villages surrounding Bystrzyca. When we started organising the Siberian Deportee Association in 1989, there were still over 800 Siberian deportees still living in the neighbourhood. They certified their origin in various ways, the fact that they had returned from the East. Most of them arrived from Kazakhstan. There were some who were with us in Siberia. Even the Sikorskis, who lived in Bystrzyca, at Klodzka Street, they were with us in Benkowa Wisznia. Their father was a forester, and that was the reason for the whole family to be sent to Siberia.
Now there are about 500 Siberian deportees in Bystrzyca, some of us have died. Our activities cover the area of Stronie Slaskie, Miedzylesie, Ladek and all the villages. Mr. Kobryn is the President, I am his Deputy. It’s all voluntary, we don’t get any money for our activities. We have meetings every Wednesday, from 9.00 to 13.00. We are trying to help those people, as for two years now there’s been a possibility of them applying for war benefits. Unfortunately, the Act is prepared so badly, that you have to prove that your present state of health has been caused by your stay in Siberia. Only 33% of the applications have been accepted, the rest was rejected. My mother received a war pension immediately, she didn’t even have to be examined by a special commission, but most of us, including myself, appeal to the Labour Court in Wroclaw. Personally, I’ve been before that commission in Wroclaw three times now. In such a situation you feel like an intruder. It’s as if a camel was trying to prove it’s got a hump. They require certificates that you were in hospital, certificates that nobody kept. Besides, after the war I was living in the country, where nobody saw any doctors, we cured ourselves using traditional methods.
[Mrs. Przeworska butts in:] When mother tells me what she had to go through with him, it was terrible.
Mother was at work all day long, practically from dawn to late at night, and I was by myself all the time, I prepared myself meals, whatever I could prepare and...
[Mrs. Przeworska:] ...and you never wanted to eat anything.
Yes, I have always had problems eating. And when we were in Kazakhstan, you had to prepare everything on your own. When we were leaving, for some reason my mother took a coffee grinder, a manual one. That grinder was with us all the time in Siberia, we ground grain in it, the grain that mother managed to get somehow or stole. Later, mother made that wheat into a cereal, and when she collected some millets, you had to husk it yourself. Or some barley. That’s what the life looked like. For some time, we lived in a dugout, we spent one winter in it. And all that had to have an effect on your health, and now you have to prove that you went to doctors.
To this interview I enclose a list of people living in the Gieorgievka region. From what I know, the Poles living there donated small sums which were then used to pay benefits to the most affected ones. The list contains 260 names.
I also enclose a photocopy of the ticket and a certificate issued in the name of my aunt - Helena Opalinska - enabling them to travel back to Poland and stay here permanently. Unfortunately, a similar certificate issued for my family has got lost.
Section 9
Thank you for the conversation.

Important events in Mr. Przeworski’s life:
( 2 April 1937 - birth
( 10 February 1940 - NKWD (Russian Security Service) deports the family to Siberia
( May 1946 - a mixed, Polish, Russian and Jewish Commission issues a permit for the Przeworski family to leave for the West
( Mother meets a new husband
( Until 1951 - lives in Nowa Bystrzyca, near the Kruk bus terminus, then moves to the lower part of Nowa Bystrzyca
( 1957 - school in Wroclaw until 1960
( 1963 - gets married
( Works in chemistry laboratories in, among others, Match Factory, Town and District Office, Bystrzyca Paper Works
( 1989 - sets up the Siberian Deportee Association
( 1992 - retires