Józef Boba
Józef Boba

Interview recorded:

Polanka Wielka, Poland
24.10.2015

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The oldest member of my nearest family, my grandfather Józef Boba, was born on 26th December 1932 in Polanka Wielka.
Together with his family, he was resettled to another town in 1940.
He lost his father on 9th January 1942. His father died in a labour camp which he was taken to by force because he had refused to give away his brother.
In 1948 Józef absolved two months of training at the “Służba Polsce” (a post-war paramilitary organisation for young people).
In 1950 he was called up for compulsory military service and served 2 years as a sapper.
In 1959 he married Maria Bratek. They had four children: Maria, Zofia, Bogdan and my dad Jerzy.

Memories of the past

Interview with Józef Boba

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I am 83 years old. I was born in Polanka. My parents’ names were Franciszka and Jan.

And your name is Józef Boba.

My name is Józef Boba.

I remember the war very well. I was seven years old then and I went to school already. I don’t remember when exactly the war broke out.

My dad’s friend often came to visit us. They would talk about war, about displacements. I listened to it all. Then I woke up at night because I was so scared.

Then one day I saw a plane flying over the fields behind the houses and shooting. They said the war had begun. Maybe it had begun even earlier and I just didn’t know. Later, when I was grazing the cows along the road that led through our field towards the pond, I saw a couple of soldiers. They came up to me. They tried to talk to me, but they were speaking German. I didn’t understand them. They photographed me and went away.

Then the displacements began. In the morning, a small horse carriage arrived at our house. In the beginning, such carriages were still provided. What were we allowed to take with us? We took the beds, the blankets, some clothing and a cupboard. They didn’t allow us to take any more. Neither the wardrobe nor anything else. An axe stood nearby, so I took it, but one of the soldiers grasped it and forced me to leave it behind.

They took us to a small house in Bielany. It was half brick and half wooden. There were only two rooms. In the other room, the brick room, lived a mother with her daughter, who worked as a tailor. We were given one room and they were given the other. We didn’t live there long.

Once my father and I went to our neighbour for lunch and then some military policeman came to get my father. Mom showed up immediately and I couldn’t come along with dad, but I saw everything. They took him away and he never returned.

 

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The only existing photo of Jan Boba (standing second from the right), Józef’s father.

Why did they take him away?

They took him away, because he had already been supposed to be displaced to the Włosień region earlier. They accused him of smuggling away some poultry, but in fact it was his brother who did it. So they took him instead of his brother. He was cuffed and probably beaten in order to make him plead guilty. He didn’t, because he wasn’t guilty, and he didn’t give away his brother either.

We lived there the whole winter. The tailor was also living in the house. Once, she left a needle in the doorframe. My mother was cleaning and the needle plunged into her wrist. She grabbed the end and ran to our neighbours. They said to her: “Let it go, let it go”. She let it go and the needle plunged even deeper. So mum went to the hospital in Bielsko. There, they wanted to cut her hand off, because they feared that it would become gangrenous, but she asked the doctors not to do it. Her sister went to Osiek to see a quack called Klęczar. He gave her some ointment for my mum to rub her hand in with. She rubbed it in at night, because she wasn’t allowed to do it during the day. This way she managed to save her hand.

In the meantime they brought us back to Polanka to my grandparents, my mother’s family. We lived there for the rest of the war. When my mother came back from hospital, she also came to Polanka to grandparents’ house. There, she worked for a Bauer, on a farm. I looked after the Bauer’s cows for a litre of milk a day and 30 kg flour a month. I was taking care of six cows. I didn’t go to school because Poles were not allowed to.

In autumn people were harvesting potatoes, sometimes one of the Bauers allowed us to take a basket of potatoes home. There were ration coupons for everything else, for food and for salary. My mother received money for her work, so we bought everything in a shop.

Were those ration coupons enough?

No, there were too few of them. We had to deal on our own. We walked across the stubble and collected grains that were left over. Then we crumbled them and dried them in a baking tin. We also had a hand grinder. We milled the grains in it, took the flour that we had bought in the shop, then added it all to the bread dough and baked brown bread. Moreover, we had some hens and rabbits.

We lived there for the rest of the war. I looked after the cows, there was a pasture. Three anti-aircraft cannons stood nearby. The soldiers had some barracks there. They also had a huge binoculars. Opposite of it there was an open space of maybe 500 metres. There was the second cannon which they called “Flak”. It was an anti-aircraft cannon. One day I focused the binoculars, bent down and looked through it. I saw the soldiers peeling potatoes. Suddenly, a soldier came up to me, kicked my ass and told me to get back to the cows.

We lived in one small room. In total, three families lived there. My grandparents’ house had two rooms. The other room was also in family hands, their son lived in one room and we lived in the other.

Policemen would often come and look for something. The uncle who was living there as well was hiding his brother. He was often in the house at night, he had his hideouts there. He used to hide in a hole under the shed. Once someone noticed the Bauer’s wife walking behind the fence with plates for him and understood that somebody was out there. She explained that it was for the hens they were keeping. The police came at night and looked even under the blankets. They came during the day too. But he was never there, and even if he was, he always managed to escape. The door to the cellar was close to the room and it was possible to flee through them. This way, he could escape through the stables. That’s the way it was.

Why was he hiding?

They were caught for making “moonshine”, a kind of booze, and selling it. One day they were caught while transporting meat and they [the police] came to get them. But there was this door to the outside. When the house was built, there was one door and right opposite to it was the door to the outside.

When the Germans came to get them, they were preparing breakfast. One of the Germans went to search through the cellar and the other one just stood leaning at the door and looking around. In the meantime, they used the other door to escape to the woods near Włosień.

From then on, they were hiding near Głębowice and he sometimes came to us at night. If they had ever found him, if they had found out that we were hiding him, we would all have been sent to the Lager [camp]. I often went with my uncle to Brzeszcze with the horse carriage to get coal. When we were passing by the Lager in Oświęcim, he had to take off his hat and go on bareheaded. This was the Germans’ way to check if he had any hair. If he hadn’t had any, it would mean that he had escaped from the Lager.

Then the air raids began. American planes were flying over our heads and shooting. We were hiding in the cellars. Towards the end of the war, there were air raids and bombings every day. As the front came closer, we stayed in the cellars as well, because there were shootings all around. Russian soldiers rushed into our house in search of Germans. This continued all day and all night. Very many German soldiers were shot in our village. One of them was hiding in the chapel, they found him and shot him there. We went to see the body, it lay beside the chapel. Another soldier was hiding in the Ryłko family’s stables behind a pile of straw, they got him out of there and shot him, too. In the south of the village, some German soldiers were making breakfast. The Russians attacked them, brought them behind the barn and shot them all.

How did the German soldiers behave towards you and your family?

They were kind. Even those who were in charge of the anti-aircraft cannons. One of them used to come to us. They all lived together in one house. Once he came, took out a lot of money and said: “What do I need this money for, now that I’m here.” They were very kind.

What about the Russians?

The Russian soldiers were kind, too. Only the young ladies hid away from them, because they would rape them.

Those air raids… Finally the war was over. We didn’t return home straight away, because our neighbour was living in our house. He had no other place to go, because his house had been pulled down. All houses that were fit for demolition were pulled down and the wood was used for building barns and stables. When our neighbour moved out, we returned home. But there wasn’t much left of our house… A wooden barn, a stables without a roof, because the roof tiles had been used for building other stables. The horses were gone, too. We had to deal on our own.

So you had a difficult start?

Yes, in the beginning it was difficult. We found one cow somewhere and that was all we had, everything else was hard. Then, slowly, things began to get better.

Your dad was gone. All the time you believed he would return. When did you find out he wouldn’t?

We learned about it from a letter which arrived later.

 

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The letter Jan’s wife received: “On 9th January 1943 you husband died in the men’s labour camp in Sosnowiec. You have to contact the Aid Office in order to assume responsibility for the funeral.”

Then, the “Służba Polsce” was founded. It consisted of boys and girls aged 13 to 16. The participation in the meetings, several hours a week, was obligatory.

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My grandfather (left) with his friend at SP.

What did you do there?

They taught us how to shoot, what a gun is made of. It was kind of a preparation for war, because everybody thought that another one would come.

Did you go to school again already?

No, I didn’t.

So you didn’t go to school even after war?

I did. Right after the war I went to school again. I finished four classes.

Was this before you went to SP, or after that?

It was before I went to SP.

So when the war was over, you finished school first.

Yes, I finished four classes, then my entire grade left school. I didn’t go to school anymore, because I had to work on the farm and help out my mother who was left alone. That’s why I only finished four classes. Later on, I finished seven classes in evening courses.

So I went to SP. The girls also had to absolve a two months training and some practical works.

I was taken away to the Grabówek district of Gdynia for two months. We had some training there. We lived in tents and had to keep watch. We were given machine guns. They were long, but damaged. Holes had been drilled in the cartridges so that we couldn’t shoot them.

Did you have to go to SP? Your mother was left alone, your dad was gone. Did you have to leave her behind?

Yes, I had to. My mother tried to hold me back in Bielsko, because that was where we departed from, but she didn’t succeed. So I spent two months away with SP.

Then I came back. I had already completed 18 years, so I was taken to the military for two years. I was sent to Tczew, to a sapper unit.

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My grandfather’s military ID card.
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Józef (left) during his military service.

In winter we lived in the barracks, in summer we went to military trainings. Once, we had to cross a river with a tank. This was the kind of classes that we had there. Or we had to camouflage landmines and some others followed us and defused them. I spent two months clearing Hitler’s bunker in Kętrzyn of mines.

Sometimes we just brought the mines outside, sometimes we defused those that others hat brought outside before. Or we brought them to another place and destroyed them there, but someone died in the process, because one of the mines exploded. We used TNT and primer. They gave us safety fuses. With such a fuse, it takes a minute for one centimetre to burn. We cut them in order to escape from the explosion. Every one of us, the whole platoon, was supposed to blow up one mine each. We stood next to the mines and lit up the fuses on command. We lit them up and escaped. This was how we destroyed the mines.

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Józef and Maria’s wedding day.

Later I worked in agriculture. I met a girl and got married. I moved to her place and built a house on the plot. Then I found a job in the chemistry plant in Oświęcim and worked there until I retired. Today I am 83 years old and… I’m alive.