Interview recorded:Lublin, Poland
My name is Zofia Listosz, I live in Lublin and I am 64 years old. I was born after the war, my parents used to live in the countryside. Due to many factors, life was not easy for them. In post-war times, the countryside was poor and they had to rebuild everything after the war. What did the life of your family look like during World War II? It was easier for them to survive in the countryside, partly because the winter was always hard. My mother used to say: “When the hungry gap comes, it’s most difficult to survive”. That was when we were running out of potatoes and vegetables. In the summer, it was easier in the countryside, because they could always grow something on their land. If they had just one hen, it mean they had some eggs as well. They lived near the woods where they could always find some berries. However, they surely didn’t go to the woods right after the war. My mother told us that it was dangerous to go there because you could step on a mine. It happened to a couple of people. After the war, bomb residues were everywhere. But it was easier to survive in the countryside. I am sure that people lived in fear in those times. At daytime it was bearable, but at night they were afraid that someone would come and knock at the door… I heard that sometimes, when the partisans came, people had no other choice than to give them everything they had, whether it was food or anything else they needed for the soldiers or the partisan groups. It wasn’t always clear where they were actually taking all these things to. What have you been told about the people’s situation in those times, about persecutions and repressions? I often heard that someone had died as a partisan or that someone had been persecuted. My closest family told me that the partisans would sometimes call out certain persons. People were afraid of this, because among those partisans, there were different kinds of people. My husband’s father was the village leader, so he knew a lot about the partisans. After the war, they came to his house one evening and asked him to come out. He went out and never came back. They took him to the woods and killed him. We don’t know whether it was really the partisans or some people who pretended to be partisans. Anyway, he was killed. Only later did someone tell us that his body was laying in the woods. Such things often happened in the countryside. How much have your relatives told you about the times of occupation and their memories from then? At home, such things were rarely mentioned. My mother sometimes told us stories about how they had to flee from air raids or bombings. Near our house there were dense bushes, mires and a lake. My mother said that people had often been hiding there. They took everything they could with them and ran away. That’s what I remember from my mother’s stories. Concerning family stories, I remember that we used to go to the woods with our parents when we were children. There, we often asked why there were such big holes in the ground. Mum answered that they were remnants of war, that the partisans had been stationed in the area and these holes had been their trenches. She often told me about that, because we lived near a wood where many ambushes had been arranged. Such matters were never discussed in public, you could only have such conversations in the family. Many years later I also talked about this with my mother-in-law. She told me that a Jew had been hiding in her village and that people had been very afraid of being punished for hiding him, because it had been very dangerous. She spoke about it with so much fear that I am really glad those times are gone. When did you learn the truth about the war, the “history set straight”? When I started learning history, I believed what I was told at school. Only a few years later I started to listen to true history, “history set straight”, and I couldn’t believe that there had been so many lies, that we had never been told the true story. Then, I finished high school and got married, I started reading newspapers and listening to Radio Maryja [a Polish Catholic radio station]. I listened with great interest, because it was the first time I heard of many things such as Katyń. It seemed incredible to me that I had lived so many years without knowing about it all. I was talking about that with a friend and she told me: “Zosia, I knew all of this from the beginning, because my father worked at the railway and there were partisans in our area. When dad came home, he told us about it, but we weren’t supposed to tell it to anyone else. We weren’t allowed to mention it even with a single word.” She had known about it so early and I just found it all out after so many years. Since then, I have developed great interest in history, particularly in “history set straight”. What is your attitude towards history today? As I said, I became interested in history. My parents are dead, so I cannot ask them anything any more, but I draw knowledge from the news. I listen to everything and I read everything I can. I can’t learn much more from my family. Sometimes when I talk to my closest relatives, we remember those times and after all these years I regret very much that I hadn’t been interested in those times before, that I missed a chance in my life, because now my parents are dead… Maybe it was because I was away most of the time. I left home at quite a young age and moved to a big city, to Lublin. I rarely came home and when I was there, there was probably no time for such conversations. Only now do I see how much I could have learned from my parents if only I had asked. But when I came home, I never asked, it was just by chance that someone mentioned the war or history in a conversation. If I had asked my mother or my grandmother more questions, they would have told me much more. How often do you talk to your family about your family history and World War II? My parents are dead already. Sometimes I visit my older sister and ask her what she knows, because after all she spent more time with them than I did. Sometimes she tells me something I didn’t know before. For example that her father-in-law was imprisoned and forced to move eighteen times after the war due to various repressions. His house was burned down, then he was sent to prison and after he was released, the persecutions continued. He moved from village to village, he couldn’t stay in one place. It was a very difficult time for him. My sister told me that her father-in-law had fought in the war, that he had been persecuted later and that he had probably been hiding someone in his house. Someone denounced him and they came to get him in broad daylight. She only managed to escape because someone warned her that danger was approaching. She took her small child with her and ran away. The house was burned to the ground, because her family lived close to the woods. I also remember the story of a lady who survived the deportation to Russia during World War II. I remember she had been imprisoned. She described how they had been transported in railway carriages, under what kind of conditions and how cold it had been there. They only things they had to eat were potatoes, nothing else. Those stories were horrible. She survived the prison, but she said she had been lucky, because she had worked in the kitchen, which made it easier for her to survive. What are your childhood memories? The times weren’t easy for sure, we couldn’t just buy everything like we do now. In the countryside, my parents had some cows, so we had milk, we had some potatoes. The house stood near a meadow, we could find some sorrel in the woods, and this was enough to survive the summer. In winter things got worse, we didn’t have any fridges back then. However, my childhood wasn’t that hard, because my grandmother was such a resourceful woman that she always managed somehow and I never suffered real poverty.