Stefaniya Duts
Stefaniya Duts

Interview recorded:

Lviv, Ukraine
08.12.2017

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Stefaniya Duts was born on May 22, 1935 in Volya Gorodecka, Lublin region, Poland. She was relocated to Donbas. Later escaped to Lviv with her family: father, mother and a little sister.

My name is Stefaniya Trokhymivna, born Duts on May 22, 1935 in village of Volya Gorodecka, Lublin region, Poland.

My dad… There was no war at that time yet every male irrespectively of their nationality had to do compulsory military service in the Polish Army. You’ve seen these military shoulder straps, right? I don’t know for how long he served or which rank he had. After the service he came back and the war had started. Dad was a Polish partisan, supporting Poland of course. He loved animals and they loved him too. Once he went to see his friend in Tomashiv and they gave him a dog. I have never seen this breed again.

Well, Germans soldiers came. Someone told them that dad had a trained dog. They were looking for dogs to turn on people in Oswiecim. And our neighbor… In Poland we lived all mixed up: a Polish house, a Ukrainian house, then Polish again and a Jewish. So our neighbor, who was friends with my dad and grandad, came in and said: “Trokhym, take Rex and run away. They are coming for the dog, you have been reported. When they come to get the dog, you will not survive.”

I don’t know where dad went. He wasn’t at home for almost a week. When German soldiers left the village, he came back and his friend told him: “Don’t show the dog!” But how do you hide a dog? Dad took an axe, a sack and the dog and went to the forest. Dad told me that the dog knew something bad was going to happen: “He was looking at me, I was looking at him and I saw tears. The dog was crying.” Dad killed and buried it. He was not at home for another week, several times soldiers were here to check on him. My mom would always tell them she had no idea, he could have gone to another village. After the events dad wasn’t able to eat for almost two months. He said every time he ate he saw the dog and couldn’t eat.

Earlier you have mentioned that your dad was friends with your Polish neighbor. Could you tell me about their relations during the German occupation?

Riots occurred in Ukraine. Why? There were three public disorders: Ukrainians were killing Poles. It came all the way to Poland where they had their own Partisan Army killing Ukrainians. Yet Poles from our village, Volia Horodetska, and other villages in the neighborhood didn’t touch anyone. They were all in contact with each other and moved around so they didn’t know anyone in the new place. How possibly could you, after all these years together? Just imagine me and you, entire life side by side, and suddenly I come to kill you.

With mom and dad we went to see what was happening. We lived on a hill, so you had to go down to a cow pasture. A fenced church that was there was on fire, almost completely burned down. We saw carts driving the dead bodies away. I can see it now right in front of my eyes: burned limbs dangling from the carts. It was terrifying. Our documents were in the church. That’s where everyone kept them back then. There was a parish register of births, baptisms, marriages, deaths. All village documents were gone.

At night in the village we settled in cows were moaning madly. The Poles left and there was no one to feed them. I remember mom milked a cow onto the ground because the udder was swollen. There was too much milk. Then we opened the barns and set them free. In the wild the cattle were going to survive. Locked up what could have they done? We had no idea whether we were going to stay there. We went to sleep and each house had a male on duty. They were watching out around the village the entire night. We always slept in the same clothes we wore during the day.

Once during the Green week when mom was doing laundry, dad rushed into the house and told us to get out. He took my bedding and I guess my sister Sonya’s, a loaf of bread, something for himself so that we could sleep outside and had something to eat. He told us we had to run away. Someone came into the village council asking about the Poles and where they went, people understood there was something going on. The village principal was shot, the gunfire began, we understood it was a sign for those circling the village. They were Polish shooters pretending to be Ukrainians. People started to run away. Poles were shouting: “Come over, we are Ukrainian partisans.” The moment we ran towards them they opened fire. It was hell I can’t even describe.     

We were in another village, Russians took us there. They allowed us to take a cart when we were leaving. But there was no cart, we haven’t been home forever. They told us to pack. The only thing dad was asking for was a cow because we were very small. We had two cows and dad wanted to take the younger one but they let us take the old one.

We also had a horse. When the war began many soldiers died and their horses ran away usually to the forest. My dad and a Pole went to catch them. Our horse was old and dad, I remember it very well, brought a very beautiful white horse. At first it was in our yard, it took some time to tame it as it had gone wild. The Russians didn’t allow us to take it. Dad didn’t want the old one as it had no teeth. We only took the cow, it was with us at Donbas and that’s where we left it.   

Dad worked in a mine. He liked wood and everything connected with it. Once his boss asked him where he learnt Russian and dad said that he went to a Russian carpentry school. Then dad started to work as a carpenter in a mine, there were many repairs to be done. He did not become a miner and it saved his life. His job was still considered to be very dangerous and he was making a lot. I think we had about 1400gr or 1200 gr of bread.

A day?

Bread? Yes, per day. That was it. And little margarine, there was no butter. But the Creamy Margarine was very good, there is nothing like it today. There was also some sugar. Sugar, margarine and oil.

Then dad with some friends or colleagues decided to escape. You couldn’t get bread anywhere even if you had ration cards, there was nothing in the stores. We were at school and heard some noise, couldn’t see from the windows but when we walked out, we realized a building was missing, a black hole was all we could see. Dad told us that there were some repairs made under that building, they dug up everything, it was left hanging in the air. What was the ground capable of holding? Dad told us how many people were inside, that they just got back from their shifts. It was a building that belonged to the industrial training school, rich people did not send their kids there, those were either from the poor families or orphans. Well, good that most of them were at work.