Interview recorded:Wrocław, Poland
I was born in 1940 in the East, in the Lviv voivodship, in the countryside. My parents were running a homestead. I have two siblings – my brother is 11 years older than me and my sister is 5 years older. During the war we had to run away from the Ukrainians to Lviv. In Lviv we survived the times of Russian and German occupation. After my father came back from the war, we emigrated to the West. We settled down in Boguchwałów, Głubczyce district, Opole voivodship. I went to primary school there and then I graduated from the technical institute of agriculture in Głubczyce. Afterwards, I studied at the post-secondary college in Wrocław for two years. It was a teacher course, profiled in agriculture. When I finished my education, I started to work at the School of Agricultural Sciences in the Świdnica district.
After a year, when I finished my basic military service, I came back to my homeland. There I met my future wife, Barbara. We got married and started to work together as teachers, my wife worked at a primary school and I worked at an agricultural school.
More than a dozen years later I was appointed as an inspector of agricultural education in Prudnik. My task was to set up a new system of three-year agricultural schools. Four such schools were created in the district. In 1973 I became head teacher of one of them, in Mochów, Głogówek community, Prudnik district. I worked there until I retired [in 1991]. While I was working, I simultaneously graduated from extramural studies at the Academy of Agriculture in Poznań and took my Master Engineer of Agriculture’s degree there.
What do you remember from your childhood?
I remember my childhood very well. I was 4 years old when the bombings in Lviv started. At first they were German bombings, then Russian ones. During the bombings we had to hide away. There was a shelter in the garden. All the people who lived nearby were hiding inside. The war times were really hard times. We all were persecuted for being Polish. At first by the Germans and then by the Russians. My uncle, who was a reserve officer, was taken to Katyń and murdered there.
Please tell me about your journey from the countryside to Lviv.
We left Lviv because we were running away from the Ukrainians, from the UPA precisely, as they were murdering Polish people. As we were on the road from Zhovkva to Lviv, we saw that all the villages were already on fire. We were running away to save our lives. Our belongings were destroyed, burnt.
What was your life in Lviv like?
We stayed at some friends’ place. We had no luxurious conditions, but they were good enough to survive. We lived like that for a few years. In addition, as my father was taken to the army later on, my mother was left alone with three children.
What did your daily life look like?
It was very hard. My father had to take up different jobs so that we could survive. My mother was also working to support the family. When my father was taken to the front, she at least received some military benefits and that helped us to survive then.
My father was a sapper. He was demining the fields in Bessarabia that had been mined by Germans. He did it until 1946. He was drafted to the Soviet army, because Ukrainian territories was recognized as part of the Soviet Union. Therefore the USSR claimed the right to draft the men who lived there to their army. When my father demanded to be transferred to the Polish army, he was told: “We are fighting against the same enemy – Germany, so it doesn’t matter if you’re in the Soviet or in the Polish army”. Only after he had submitted the repatriation documents, he was released from the army and we could leave.
What did your parents tell you about those times?
I precisely remember my father telling me about how they [my parents] were waking up during the bombings, taking us children and running to the shelter, while the missiles and bombs were slamming the sheets that covered the buildings. This was additionally increasing the danger. You could never see it coming, you could not be sure whether you would survive the bombing or not. Before all that happened, after the Russians had taken over the Ukrainian territories in 1939, they introduced collectivization of the villages and wanted all of the farmers to join the kolkhoz. Polish people resisted against that and were to be deported to Siberia. Only the German invasion made these plans invalid. This way we avoided the deportation to Siberia, survived the war in Lviv and lived to freedom.
What was your travel from Lviv to the West like?
We were transported in so-called echelons. These were freight wagons in which we were evacuated with all our belongings. We did not have much, as we were not allowed to take much with ourselves. As I said, most of our possessions had been previously destroyed by the Ukrainians. Therefore we took just ourselves and all we could take with us, all the things needed for the journey. It took us a few weeks, the trains stopped in different cities, as people were assigned to various places by the Repatriation Office. Nobody could choose the destination, we were all forced to settle down in the places that were assigned to us.
Did you have a choice between leaving and staying in Lviv?
Yes, we could have stayed. Actually, a lot of Poles stayed, thinking that the Polish statehood would come back. We had to decide whether we want to accept the Ukrainian – and thus Soviet – citizenship or whether we want to remain Polish citizens. We wanted to be Poles and to live in Poland, not in the Soviet Union. Therefore we left this old homeland of ours and started to look for a new one here, on the Recovered Territories, as the West was called back then.
Where did you live then?
At first we lived in the Wrocław voivodeship, then we moved to the Opole voivodeship. We settled down in Boguchwałów, Głubczyce district, Opole voivodeship. My parents were running a homestead again and me and my siblings went to school. These times were not beneficial for running homesteads. As the so-called production cooperatives were introduced, farmers were forced to join them. My father, after the experiences in the East, would not agree to join the cooperative. He was persecuted for that. Three times his lands were taken and we were forced to relocate. My father told us, his children, that we should not stay in the countryside. “Go to school, get a job, stay away form the farm”, that was what he said.
How have these experiences changed your way of perceiving reality?
These experiences showed me reality the way I see it right now. A man is on his fate. A man can not achieve all that he would like to accomplish. External or internal factors always influence his attitude. And the fundamental thins is to endure. To endure in your beliefs, your dreams and to spend your life as good as possible.