Interview recorded:Opole, Poland
When the war started, you were just a small child, of course you can’t remember much but what memories, if any, do you have from this period?
If I were to start with the war, it would be the year 1942 or 1943, because when the war started I was barely 3 years old and of course I do not remember that period. My first wartime memories are actually from the years 42-43, when my sister was about half a year old. Our father was not with us, so me, my brother and my half-year-old sister had to hide together with our mum in the cellar of our old house, which was demolished during the war. However, I have to admit that I am not sure who demolished it, whether it was the Ukrainians or the Germans. This was my father’s family house and after it had been ruined, we moved to the house of my grandparents from my mother’s side. I think we had to go quite a long way to reach this cellar. My mum was very exhausted carrying my younger sister. Moreover, me and my brother were crying “Mum, faster, faster…”, because a lot of other people were running away too. On the opposite bank of the river there was a Ukrainian village. We lived nearby. This is why I guess it was the Ukrainians that we were running away from. We sat in the cellar, probably a day or two. Someone hid and masked us so that no-one could see that there were any people at all. Actually, it is difficult for me to tell how long we stayed there, but for sure it was not easy. There were many small children including my own sister and some people started to protest. Of course, the children were crying, and they were scared that someone could hear us. That is one of the episodes I remember. That is basically it. However, I also know that everyone was afraid of the Ukrainians all the time. People were hiding everywhere they could.
How did it happen that your first house was destroyed?
I do not know who did it. It was burned down, the cellar was the only part that was left. There was rubble everywhere, this I can remember. Many other houses were set on fire too. We hid in the cellar together with our neighbours, but there were also other people. Everyone who could hid there with us.
What happened next?
We returned to my mother’s family house, my grandparents had already died but the house belonged to the family. My uncle lived there. This house, on contrary, was intact, despite being situated near the Ukrainian village. Our house was probably burned down because of my fathers brother who had some grudges with the Ukrainians.
Do you remember any other episodes? What about the journey to the West, after you were forced to leave your home and everything behind, because those lands no longer belonged to Poland?
The second episode I remember is actually the journey from the East to the West in a goods wagon. The conditions in these wagons were awful. There was no place to wash. We only stopped at the stations, so probably that was the moment when my mum collected some water in buckets and tried to wash us at least a bit. Of course lice occurred on daily basis, it was horrible, but to tell the truth during the war it was like this everywhere. I cannot tell how many people were in the wagon, but for sure there were many, probably around twenty or even more. Many families were there with children, which was even more problematic. I do not think that any other members of my family were travelling with us, only us and our mum. The rest of the passengers, or “resettlers” as we call them, were actually strangers to us.
Where did you get out of the train?
Eventually we luckily arrived in Wrocław, where our father picked us up. After the war he stayed in the West, he did not come back [home]. I do not know how, but he came to an agreement with a Swedish man, who owned a farm in Starczów. He left my father with the estate when he was heading back to Sweden. He allowed my father to look after the estate for some time. My father had worked there for approximately a year before we arrived and joined him. When the estate was renationalised and turned into a PGR [state-owned farm], my father no longer wanted to work there. We moved to a neighbouring village called Goleniów, which is now Kamieniec Ząbkowicki. My father took a small farm there for himself, but he was not able to maintain the family only with the farm, so he started working as a switchman at the big railway station in Kamieniec. My mother worked at the household, but it was a very miserable one. There were some cows, pigs and hens, but no horse. We had to borrow one from the neighbours in order to plough our fields, but this was mutual help that occurred everywhere.
What about the Germans who had to resettle as well, were any of them still living in your house when you moved in?
When my father took over the house in Goleniów, we came to live in a quite a big house. A German woman lived for some time after we moved in. I guess she had not left because of an illness, my parents had to take care of her because she was lying in bed all day. Only when she regained her health did she leave us and travel to the West, to Germany. As well as I can remember, there were also some other German families which left after a short period of time.
What did your daily life look like during wartime? Do you remember some personal feelings?
Unfortunately I do not remember any personal feelings from that time. These are the two episodes that I actually remember. Of course I am not talking about games and playing with other children. In spite of war, the school in Semenivka was not closed. I was in the third grade of primary school there and my brother, who was 2 years younger, was in the first grade. We left during the school year, so I actually finished my third grade in the West already. To tell the truth, most of the warfare passed me by, there were few fights in my region except for small arguments with the Ukrainians. I can also recall visiting my aunt, my father’s sister, in Lviv. She often invited us to stay. I clearly remember that she always wanted to welcome her niece as well as possible, so she gave me sweets and other treats. I also remember that I really loved the electricity at my aunt’s house. I used to stand there and play with the switches all the time. I switched the light on and off, but of course that was because I was a small five- or six-year-old child. To sum up, I actually was not very exposed to military operations. These are the two episodes I remember the most and apart from that it was relatively calm. I do not remember any food shortages or that I had ever been hungry. I was not cold either Ialways had a pair of shoes and a coat to wear. No, it was not that bad. To tell the truth, after the war I was never interested in these issues and I tried to forget everything.