Family stories
Czesława Poprawska
Interview recorded: by Weronika Rataj Kościan, Poland 30.11.2020

Czesława Poprawska

Interview with my aunt – Czesława Poprawska, born in 1928, lived in Kościan (town in the Greater Poland Voivodeship, between Poznań and Leszno), she tells me primarily about villages nearby Kościan. She survive World War II nearby her family home. Her father was exiled to compulsory work towards the west of Germany, after the war he came back. Her mother and grandmother worked for Germans. My aunt did it too, when she was in appropriate age. After the war ended she took up a job at the tailor’s.

[WR] Weronika Rataj, [CP] Czesława Poprawska

WR: How old were you, when the World War II started?

CP: I’ve just turned 11.

WR: What 11 years old child feels, when something like that happens?

CP: I heard everything, I knew everything. When the World War II broke out, there was so hot. (sighing) We all were about to flee from Germans, but it failed. We stayed at our home, not going anywhere. Other people ran away by their cart, it was no use.

WR: It was the first September, so you were supposed to prepare for school?

CP: Yes, there were some preparations but it didn’t come off, school didn’t began for us.

WR: Did everyone know then, what was going to happen?

CP: Yes, everyone knew.

WR: What is your earliest memory from that time except for the heat of the day?  

CP: People was preparing, baking cakes for leaving, but nobody left our village.

WR: What village was it?

CP: I lived in Ponin. Germans came perhaps at 3rd September. Firstly, at night there was an observation, but then, during the day Germans went by cars or motorbikes, for example from Leszno to Poznań.

WR: Was there some person who did nothing but guarding except for going to bed?

CP: No. During the first night we didn’t sleep, because when the war broke out, Polish burnt haystacks on the farms. If somebody had fortune, there was bigger haystacks, so when  the burnt for example 2 or 3 haystacks at the same time there was a lot of fire. It was as brightly as during the day.

WR: Because of that you couldn’t sleep, could you?

CP: No, we couldn’t. All of us was watching, what was happening during that night. And like every child, we got tired so we fell asleep. I was the oldest at our home. My sister was born in the 1940 and my father was taken away to Germany in 1941. We stayed – our mother, grandparents and 4 of us, is means children. We didn’t live a lot in our house, because they took us away to Lubosz where we were divided. Every adult must have been referred to forced labor in Germany, we were taken to Lubosz. We lived then in one empty room without the floor. The house was new, unfinished. One family had a equipped room with a kitchen and in another room there was nothing. So we were taken away there.

WR: How long have you been there?

CP: We didn’t live there long, because my mother got a job from German who dispossessed neighbours so we were back in Ponin. Germans agreed to take to work my mother and grandmother, so we were back but in our neighbour’s house. And we lived there till the end of the war.

WR: Were your mother and grandmother housewives? They looked after the house, didn’t they?

CP: Yes. They have been working there for a year. Grandfather didn’t, but mother and grandmother did.

WR: Men were taken away, weren’t they? Did you know about where they were going? Or maybe was it a secret?

CP: Nobody knew where they were going.

WR: Did your father come back home, after the war?

CP: He came back only in July. The World War II ended in May, but I think my father came back only in July from Germany because he was taken far away and he worked on the railway in the mountains.

WR: How did he mentioned it?

CP: It wasn’t that bad because he was with Americans, not Russians. It was somewhere on the west. When he came back, he told us that Germans did not believe him about exporting his family from one house to another. They didn’t believe. They thought it wasn’t true what was happening then. They didn’t mentioned about the concentration camps too, because they didn’t know about it.

WR: I have just wanted to ask you about the information, because today if we want to know something, we search it on the Internet or we watch news on Tv etc. But even the press wasn’t so developed then. What level of information was it during the war? Did you know about some concentration camps or that people were exported? 

CP: We had no idea about these camps during the war. It went out only after the war.

WR: How did you know about the political situation? About it that Americans or the British joined to the war?

CP: We did not know about it too because there weren’t any newspaper. We knew nothing.

WR: So you lived in complete ignorance?

CP: It was going everyday but nobody knew about exporting.

WR: Everything went out when the World War II ended, didn’t it?

CP: Yes.

WR: I wonder if there were some memories about what was happening locally, around Kościan? Did people fight somehow?

CP: We have just known about executing by firing squad. We knew it because my father saw it on the marketplace once and when I was at my aunt’s place in Kosynierów Street I saw cart through the window. They took them by cart along this street and they said it was a Jewish cemetery and they would be buried there. But everything disappeared after the war. There are even new houses now.

WR: Were they executed by firing squad because they were Jewish?

CP: No, it was pretty normal. They chose politics or teachers. They drove them by horse-drawn carriage and their bodies were stacked on the carriage. And my aunt lived upstairs, so we could see all the dead bodies lying on the carriage.

WR: Was it a one time thing?

CP: It was many times. If there was executing time, they blocked exit and everyone who was then on the marketplace had to see this situation. What’s more, they had to clap their hands because of the death of „a traitor of the nation” as they said about them. Even my father was there someday during the execution. On the marketplace too.

WR: Do you have some good memory from that time?

CP: Good? I was almost 14 years old, so I went to work too, to German in Ponin. There was a woman from Berlin, widow. I hadn’t that bad there too. She had animals and there was normal. We were there in 4 and we worked there almost till the end of the war.

WR: You told: „It wasn’t that bad”, but is there something what puts a smile on your face?

CP: Yes, when there was no German around.

WR: I think that everyone who lived during the war is a hero. Of course, I am not thinking about aggressors and traitors. It is obvious that everybody did his best, but maybe do you have some memory that makes you proud of yourself, aunt?

CP: (sighing, wondering) It wasn’t like that during the war. Nobody smiled normally. We had no reason to smile. Everyone was scared of every single future day.

WR: I see. So firstly, your family was taken away to Lubosz, then you returned there and you worked for German. Is there something else?

CP: My brother had to work too. For German in Ponin too. But the youngest brother was too young to work. So was my sister. They were at home.

WR: How did that work look like? Was it hard? Were you well treated? 

CP: It depends. My brother did not have that bad. He grazed cows. And he had to do everything they wanted. Even if the hadn’t known how to do it. It didn’t matter. Sometimes he had to learn something.

WR: Was it some language barrier? I mean, did you have to learn quickly german vocabularies to understand what they say?

CP: No. Nobody forced us to do it.

WR: So did you use body language to show what to do? Or maybe Germans spoke polish a little bit?

CP: No. My German didn’t know anything. However my brother worked in a place where everybody knew what to do, how to graze cows. So did we. We had to graze, clean. Everyone knew what to do with those animals.

WR: So it was only work with animals, wasn’t it?

CP: We took tiny rabbits and guinea pigs to Poznań too. It was necessary for experimentation.

WR: Did Germans bring some experiments?

CP: I think so, in Poznań. But we didn’t know about it. We had to go by train there and give them these animals. That’s all.

WR: Polish worked for Germans, didn’t they? Did Germans take advantage of this situation? Did Polish do some housework at German’s house?

CP: All the rooms must have been cleaned, everything. Everyone had his task: one person cooked, another took care of the garden and animals.

WR: How was a social status? Were Germans intelligent?

CP: I heard that the widow had a husband who died in the war. She was an elderly person.

WR: Did you learn some german words, aunt?

CP: Yes, but I have already forgotten. I knew something, but nobody cared about this language.

WR: Would you like to tell me something more, auntie?

CP: Everyone was happy when the war was over. It was authentic joy. People started to meet. People respected each other. More than now. And the joy… I was 17 when the war was over…

WR: And was it like: one day Germans left out country and everybody got his house back? Was it that simple?

CP: Germans ran away starting in the evening. In the morning I was in our temporary house and my neighbour told me that I didn’t have to go to work that day, because Germans were gone. Everybody ran away in silence. As always at that time, we didn’t know. I just noticed them driving by carts, one by one.

WR: And we could come back home, couldn’t you?

CP: Yes. I came back but a tour home there was nothing. Everything was taken, because this German, who lived there, went to war. So at home there was only his wife, but when she broke her leg, she moved to her parents-in-law. Our home was empty, there was nothing when we were back.

WR: Then you had to return to reality, How did it look like? Did you return to school and work immediately?

CP: It’s pretty normal. We had to catch up at school. There were different group together in one classroom. I didn’t try to pass Matura exam because I had to go to work. My father came back in July, my mother was sick. So I went to work.

WR: Where did you work?

CP: At the tailor’s.

WR: Okay, that’s all. Thank you very much.

After recording my aunt said the most important thing – that young people have no clue what war is.

The interviews are given in the original language or a transliteration of it with preservation of national, regional and individual speech peculiarities.

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