A Polish Woman's Daily Struggle to Survive: Her Diary of Deportation, Forced Labor, and Death in Kazakhstan: April 13, 1940-May 26, 1941
Zofia Ludwika Malachowska Ptasnik
Translated by Leszek M. Karpinski
Daughter of Kajetan Malachowski and Aleksandra Peplowska, Zofia Ptasnik was born on March 14, 1890, at the family estate of Szczeploty in western Ukraine, a member of the substantial Polish minority in western Ukraine that became part of the Polish state after the Polish-Soviet war of 1919-1920 and the Treaty of Riga (1922). In 1925 Zofia married Jan Ptasnik, Professor of History at Jan Kazimierz University, in Lviv (Lwów in Polish) and at the Jagiellonian University in Kraków. He husband died in 1930. They had one son named Mieczyslaw. After her husband's death, Mrs. Ptasnik administered the family estate between 1930-1939.
Shortly after the outbreak of World War II on September 1, 1939, and the Soviet invasion of Poland on September 17, Mrs. Ptasnik's sister, Jadwiga (Winia) Malachowska Popiel (Professor Bronislaw Popiel's widow) was arrested and deported to an unknown location in the Soviet northeast where she perished without a trace. Then on April 13, 1940, Zofia Ptasnik was arrested and deported to the Aktyubinsk Region of Kazakhstan where she was forced into slave labor. She died on July 25, 1941 and was buried in the steppe of northern Kazakhstan. A year later, the cross marking her grave gave way to a new railway line. Her Diary covers the period from April 14, 1940 to May 26, 1941.
Maria Szkudlapska and her three children (sons Józef and Tadeusz, and daughter Joanna-called Janka, or Jasia, in the Diary) became part of these events. Józef and Tadeusz found themselves in the Polish Army in the Middle East, and fought the Germans in Africa and later in Italy. After the war they were demobilized and settled in London, England, where they presently reside. Maria and Joanna stayed in Kazakhstan until they jumped on a train on the newly built railway and escaped through Aktyubinsk to Soviet Ukraine, where they lived until the massive expulsion of Polish citizens from the Soviet Union brought them to Poland.
Zofia Ptasnik's Diary was smuggled out of the Soviet Union by Joanna Szkudlapski and eventually handed in to Mieczyslaw Ptasnik.
Throughout her life, Zofia Ptasnik was a devoted diarist. Her diaries covering the years 1905-1939 were lost in World War II. The Polish original of the Deportation Diary is in the hands of her son, Mieczyslaw Ptasnik, a resident of Warsaw.
Poles have been subjected to colonialist deportations into northern Russia and Siberia ever since the first partition of Poland in 1772. The major waves of deportations came after the Kosciuszko Insurrection (1794), the two national uprisings of 1830-1831 and 1863-64, and during the Russo-Polish War of 1919-1920. Deportation was a way of eliminating economically strong and intellectually vigorous segments of Polish and Ruthenian societies, a stratagem designed to weaken the Polish population of the Russian-occupied part of the old Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. Also, deportations strengthened the Russian-speaking population in the Asian part of the Russian empire. In a number of instances, the author of the Diary refers to encounters with Russian citizens of Polish descent.
As a direct result of the Soviet-Nazi friendship in 1939-1941, four major deportations of Poles took place: in February, April, and June 1940, and in June 1941. According to the Polish government-in-exile, perhaps as many as 1,200,000 people were forcibly removed from the Russian-occupied territories in eastern Poland, Ukraine and Belarus. More recent estimates lowered that figure somewhat. Among the deportees, Polish Catholics were in the majority, but Polish minorities, such as Jews and Ruthenians were also represented.
Existing evidence supports the opinion that the plan of deportations was well thought out at the highest level of the Soviet power structure and then, when the time arrived, efficiently carried out by the military occupation authorities with help from a segment of the local population. Gathering people for deportation followed an established and strictly executed routine. Military squads of the NKVD and the Red Army descended on the victims in the middle of the night or early in the morning. Little time was given for packing. Then people were quickly transported to the nearest railway station where boxcars were already waiting for their human cargo.
In those cattle cars the deportees spent weeks before they reached their destinations thousands of kilometers away. There were instances of dead bodies traveling for hours with those still alive until they were thrown out at one of the stations. [Sarmatian Review published documents to that effect in previous issues. Ed.] The destination of the journey was slave labor.
The German attack on the Soviet Union in June 1941 abruptly ended Russian-German friendship. A new "alliance" between the Soviet Union, Britain, the United States, and the Polish government-in-exile in London emerged creating a common front against Germany. This led to proclamation of a general amnesty, which was supposed to free all deported Polish citizens. They were given an opportunity to enlist in Polish military units, which were then allowed to leave the Soviet Union. Close to 100,000 soldiers as well as some civilians including children went first to Iran, and from there to what was then Palestine, where they were placed under Allied command. In 1943, a large number of freed deportees who still remained in the Soviet Union were mobilized into Polish military units under Soviet command, the Kosciuszko Army, which then fought together with the Red Army against the Germans until the fall of Berlin.
Sunday, April 14, 1940, Podzamcze (Lwów freight railway station)
On April 11, I took up Miron Jarosiewicz's offer to hide my son Mieczek. I sent him with bedding and a few important everyday items to their home. I also gave him 40 rubles.
I'm waiting for news about Winia who was arrested on April 9 and left without money or food, only with the clothing on her back. My deepest sorrow is that I was not able to rush over and give her a few cursed rubles, her watch, or pack a bag with a change of clothing. I thought that she had been taken only for interrogation and would soon return home, as the commanding Russian lieutenant of the NKVD [Soviet political police], who had taken her, assured us. I wanted to wait for her and then send her to a safe place in Zólkiew. As for myself, I intended to hide away at Mrs. Igrerowa's in Jaworów.
I recall that at midnight on April 13th the rumbling of horse carts awakened me. After a moment, there was a knock at the kitchen door. I jumped up, tried to dress, and opened the door. Six people, led by their guide Samlik Hawrylak, entered the kitchen. To their disappointment, they discovered that I was alone: neither my niece Maria Bladye with her 3-year-old son Leszek nor my son Mieczyslaw were in the house. The police said they had a court order to conduct a search of the house. Then, I was told to gather my things because I will be deported to the Radianskyi Soiuz [‘Soviet Union' in Ukrainian]. My Ukrainian housekeeper Hania burst into tears of despair. I was petrified, and as always in such circumstances, I felt that I needed nothing. I took money: 193 rubles and 180 zlotys-all that the family owned at that moment. I also took watches and what was left of our jewelry. I put on two skirts, two sweaters, a heavy winter jacket, Winia's summer coat, snow shoes. I packed a couple of shirts, underwear, two pairs of stockings, three towels, two pillowcases, and pillows. Into my small suitcase I stuck a roll, bread, a cooked fish which is already half gone. I have enough bread until Thursday: what will be next? If only I had taken cornmeal, buckwheat, barley, boiled eggs - there were so many things in the pantry including a bit of honey and preserves. I worried how I would carry all these things as I already had a large bundle with pillows and a warm blanket. When I joined the others, I could see that people had brought with them large bundles full of clothing, kitchenware, bedding, supplies of food, and were helping each other in moving the heavy things around. We reached Jaworów at 7 a.m. On the main road horse carts filled with people from Niemirów joined us. We were loaded onto railway boxcars especially prepared for transporting people. There were bunks built of raw boards on which we sat and slept among our baggage. The entire day passed at the Jaworów railway station as new people were brought from the town of Jaworów and surrounding villages. In our railway boxcar we were joined by two women from Ulicko with five children, the youngest three months old and still breast-fed. We are here with the police chief's wife, Mrs. Ciesielska with two year old Krysia, and her mother, Mrs. Wittmanowa. The rest are Jews: Mrs. Kochowa, the two young Rapp girls, Mrs. Lewkowiczowa with a son and daughters, Mrs. Blumbergowa, Mrs. Baumohlowa-only the rich Jews, some fifteen of them.
Our train consists of forty cars. If each boxcar like ours contains 30 people, it means that each train carries 1,200 people. And how many trains left on that sorrowful Saturday of April 13, 1940? Lucky are those who did not live to see these days. They are deporting even the organist Lewandowski and his wife, both well into their eighties.
This morning we were reloaded onto a Russian wide-gauge boxcar with a small iron stove. The stove is not of much use because there is neither wood nor water for making hot tea. Our conditions reminded me of the lowest decks on a ship. Thank God that Mieczek is not here. I hope they are not deporting people from Wierzbiany.
This horrific lawlessness is spreading ever wider. When they were transferring us to the wide-gauge train, another very long train arrived filled with people from Lwów. The news was going around that ten long trains had already passed through the station filled with people from Lwów: university professors, teachers, real estate owners, families of military and police servicemen. Where they are transporting us, nobody knows! It is 1 p.m. and we are still not moving. No water is given to us. All my bones are hurting from the uncomfortable sitting position. The time drags so slowly. I start to doze. Lucky for me my bowels are giving me less trouble since Thursday. Before I had to use the toilet too often. Here, it is unusual to get out of the boxcar twice a day. They loaded us like cattle. Luckily, we have bread and rolls, but what is going to happen to us when things run out while we are still on the way? Nobody will care about food and water for those being deported. Mrs. Wittmanowa started to shout out the window that her child is dying. When in extreme agitation she fainted, I began to shout. Seeing what was happening, Krzyska [the baby] screamed in a frenzy. A komandir [Russian officer] who was standing nearby told me in Ukrainian "do not stick out your head: I do not want to talk to you." I replied, defying his order, "I want you to see that there are ten children here and old women-you are not giving us even water." He replied angrily "for sure I will come," but he never showed up. But they gave us some water. Mrs. Ciesielska had a portable oil stove, and somebody found some petrol. Mrs. Baumohlowa started it and Mrs. Lewkowiczowa held a kettle in the air because the stove is broken. I contributed my tea and this way, after thirty-six hours or so without even a teaspoon of hot water, everyone gets a glass of tea.
Monday, April 15, 1940, 8:00 a.m., Zadworze
It is only today at 5:00 a.m. that we started moving from Lwów. When leaving, Mrs. Wittmanowa started to yell that we were dying of hunger. As a result, people brought along three loaves of bread, a cutlet for Krzysia, a cup of milk, half of which got spilled because Mrs. Ciesielska is such a scatterbrain. She is endlessly losing something, spilling, breaking and complaining. We have passed Krasne, then Skwarzew. The weather is fine but the sun is full of melancholy as on a November day. The thought of Winia is haunting me. She was taken away alone without anything into an unknown fate.
Zloczów, same day, 11 a.m.
The train is taking us along a range of hills. In Skwarzew we were given a bit of wood. Józef Szkudlapski cooked some barley soup on a pork bone, and when I did not want to eat, he boiled tea for me. The Jewish people cooked only barley for themselves; they ate it half cooked. Mrs. Wittmanowa had some pork, so she has cooked a pork stew. Everyone invites me to eat, but I'm afraid for my weak stomach. I bought a loaf of whole meal bread for 75 kopecks, and I was also given two slices of white bread back in Lwów. With this supply of food I am going to survive this week. The news has gone around that people from this area are also being deported. Stefan Slusiewicz, rumor has it, was taken away a long time ago. We are meeting a train packed with people from Jaworów. Good God! Protect Mieczek and Marysia [Maria Popiel Bladye, her niece]. If they are taken away separately, it will be even worse than if we were deported all together.
Pluczków, same day, 12:30
Still snow and deep snowdrifts all around; winter crops are very poor.
Jezierna, same day, 3 p.m.
Through the window we are carrying on a discussion with the Russkies about religion and Russia. In vain we are begging the guards to let us out of the railway boxcars. We are told to perform all our natural functions inside the crowded boxcar. Dirt, stench: we have been on the way for seventy-two hours without washing or changing clothes.
Hluboczyk Wielki, same day
We have stopped until evening. A quarter loaf of bread and a few grams of liver sausage have been given to us.
Tarnopol (Ternopil), same day
We are meeting a train with people deported from Przemysl, Grodek and Chodorów.
Maksymowka (Maksymovka), same day
We have been stopped all night; early morning we are on the move again.
Tuesday, April 16, Bogdanowka (Bohdanovka) and Powlóczyska (Povlochyska)
We bought a few eggs. Around 9 a.m. the train passed Zbrucz and again we have halted in Woloczyska (Volochyska). People dream about being let out into the fresh air. We have been locked up for two long days and nights. At last we see the arrival of a ‘doctor.' I received some ointment for my knee, which again has started to bother me: I'm limping. This is the result of the long and uncomfortable sitting position, climbing into the bunk, and getting on and off the boxcar. The doctor told us that we will be going to Kiev. We are already looking at their [Ukrainian] wide open fields; most of them fallow ground; here and there one spots a plough pulled by two miserable horses. There are no tractors to be seen. Winter crops are like ours, but very meager looking, fields are flooded by water. I started to eat cooked food and the Lewkowiczes gave me some coffee, then for one ruble Mrs. Lewkowicz made for me two scrambled eggs.
The Szczudlapskis shared with me their cooked buckwheat and I gave them a piece of my liver sausage. I also ate a hard-boiled egg. To my great joy I see that my stomach is in order.
Yesterday I mailed a card to the Jarosiewiczes. I wonder when and if they receive it, and how is my dear Mieczek; is he safe? Winia, my dear sister, is constantly in my thoughts.
Wednesday, April 17
The train was on the move all night, which means that many miles separate us from Poland. Easing our plight at the beginning, the weather has been sunny; it helps us feel a bit better in these prison boxcars with four small windows covered with iron shutters. Luckily I managed to get a spot near a window. It is close to the noisy Krzysia, who at least twice a day wets her mother's skirt. I'm really lucky to be in the same boxcar with the Szkudlapski family. Their oldest son Józef, who in normal time would be graduating from high school, is invaluable. He brought from his house an axe with which he chops off pieces of boards from the boxcar; when we get big logs at a station, he chops them into smaller pieces to use in the stove to cook. I wish I could stay with them: decent and compassionate people. They brought provisions with them. I can count on their support. It is a nice country around with tall poplar trees and orchards. Here and there one can still see patches of snow.
The first thunderbolt confiscated our farm on September 26 [1939, Soviet occupation]; the second took away our home on September 28 [thrown out of their house to live in a miller's house]; the third struck when Winia was arrested on April 9, and the fourth--my deportation on April 13. Then our family nest was smashed and abandoned, but you young ones will rebuild it again.
Since 7 a.m. the train has been stopped for two hours in Zhmirinka. Again a battle to let us out of the boxcars for water and to use the toilet. We received thick barley and wheat soup: most of us devoured it immediately. Only the Jews have not eaten for a few days. Among us is Mrs. Baumohlowa, the owner of a resort hotel in Niemirów Zdrój and of the Zawadów forest, with her 12-year old son, a short, unpleasant, noisy boy who constantly bullies his mother.
It is 1 p.m. We are not moving. In vain we have been screaming for water, there is not a drop left in the boxcar. We did not wash today; dishes are dirty. Mrs. Wittmanowa again starts screaming and faints; water does not appear. Sheer hell. I see trains loaded with people deported from Przemysl, Chodorów, Podhajec, Rohatyn pulled by magnificent locomotives that roar with steam power.
Winnica (Vynnytsa), a large city
After Zhmirinka we passed over a big river which had flooded fields and pastures, and among a chain of villages. From the small windows of our boxcar we looked at large orchards, mixed forests of pine, oak, and birches planted in rows. Along the railway tracks stretches a fence of firs for protection against the drifting snow. Kolkhoz (or sovkhoz) settlements [collective or state farms] consist of small houses.
6.30 p. m., Kalynivka (Koziatyn)
Before leaving Zhmirinka we were given a bucket of water which we drunk instantly and were left again without water.
Thursday, April 18, Yezhyn, 8 a. m.
During the night we passed Kiev. It is unfortunate that we did not see it on the way through. It is rumored that our train will go for another 24 hours to Kharkov. Yesterday the young Lewkowicz brought a bit of coal, others got four buckets of water, unfortunately awfully yellow. Also, we managed to receive a bucket of warm water, equally yellow. I did not touch it, but others, after adding a bit of sugar, drank it.
Berelyzh, (same day), 1 p. m.
Several hours have passed since the train stopped. Finally we have lived to see the distribution of kipiatok [hot water]. At the railway station, there is a small hut with a sign Kipiatok on it, with outside taps and running water. We brought two buckets. I drank two cups of excellent tea with bread. I feel quite full. The sixth day of this journey has passed. Where and when will it end? One of the women was saying yesterday that the Germans are getting badly beaten in Norway. Maybe something is also happening in our country? A cold rainy day. We all feel depressed by being taken further away. Rumor has it that we are heading towards Moscow.
As far as the eye can see the land is flat, here and there there are small, dilapidated huts of kolkhoz or sovkhoz workers. One week has gone since I parted with my son Mieczek; worry for him and my sister Winia follows me all the time.
Kursk. 9 a. m.
It is a big city nicely located on a hill. We met trains with deportees from Przemysl, Sadowa, Wisznia, and Grodek. People say that the train from Lwów has just left from here. Sanitary conditions are dreadful: down near the small iron stove there is a drainpipe, which serves to get rid of our dirt and smell. We have been inside this boxcar for six days now without sweeping and cleaning. The women from Ulicko with five children. Mrs. Kochowa and Mrs. Baumohlowa with her son Nisiek, asleep below among the bundles in the worst conditions. Last night was so cold that I was forced to put on my winter jacket and cover myself with Winia's coat. I regret not taking with me a quilt and a suitcase with more spare clothing. It is impossible to imagine what we can expect in this abysmal misery to which we have been doomed.
A certain Jew whom we met on the journey said that he has lived here for six months and that he came with 1,400 rubles; he could not get a job, and now is left with 300 rubles. Because he wants to go back to Poland, he sent a wire asking for 200 rubles. One has to pay 5 rubles for a bed. Again we are meeting trains from Podhajce, Chodorów, and Przemysl. People on those trains are in worse shape than we are; they have not been given any food for a very long time. At least we get our daily bucket of barley soup-today it was burned-and half a bucket of groats. Yesterday I had a horrid dream: I saw charred bodies in Szczeploty and Wasyl was digging graves on the ramparts. I was upset because they were not being buried in the cemetery.
Saturday, April 20, Pleshkov-Cheremisinovo
In the morning we passed Kalorsk and Voronezh, the birthplace of Aunt Jadwiga [Peplowska]. Then we saw a big river, unregulated as is usual here, and surrounded by extensive flood plains. Our journey of martyrdom extends now into its second week. We are being carried through this endless space; such a flat and huge land with only a few scattered human settlements here and there. Invariably we see squalid mud huts with thatched roofs and small windows, dirty and dilapidated, with no fences and no trees. This gives a general impression of poverty and gloom. There are few forests, and those that are there are quite young. Again it is cold today, but at least it is not raining like yesterday when the water was leaking into the railway boxcar. The worst happens when, after a long haggle with the guards, we are allowed off the cars and everybody looks for a spot somewhere under the boxcar to relieve himself or herself, not worrying about the audience watching from all directions (this happens once in 24 hours or so). Now an immensely long train consisting of tank cars carrying gasoline passes us.
The Bolsheviks own magnificent and huge locomotives, but the passenger cars with narrow dirty windows are shabby and old-fashioned. Yesterday our Jews celebrated the Sabbath. Each family lit two candles and placed a few in a lantern. Later on, when it was already dark, they said prayers. Mrs. Baumohlowa told Jewish jokes.
A large station full of trains.
I never thought that I could sleep under such conditions: hard and uneven boards, a blanket folded into several layers and under my head, a pillow wrapped in a shawl. So narrow that when I want to turn onto my other side, I must sit first. And yet, I am able to sleep. The closeness of Mrs. Ciesielska, who is peed upon at least three times a night by her baby Krzysia is a source of unpleasant scent. My fellow travelers keep retelling stories of things they used to have. I have nothing to say and I do not complain. I am curious about the unknown that is awaiting us: am I going to survive this Gehenna? Am I going to again see the flaxen head of my son, and the grey hair of my favorite sister? What has happened to all the arrested people in Niemirów? They were still there on Saturday (April 13). Beside my sister, the husbands of Mrs. Baumohlowa, Mrs. Kochowa and Mrs. Blumbergowa and Rappówna's mother were there. We are dreaming that we will be reunited in the same place. But nobody tells us where we are going.
I changed into Soviet time and the difference is obvious. At 5:30 p.m. it gets dark and at 2 a.m. it is bright daylight. Little Krzysia reminds me of Leszek, though she is a blue-eyed and delicate blond child. However, she can scream so loud that she is heard in at least ten railcars around. She calls me "Mrs. Beka." When her mother climbed with her into the railway boxcar, she screamed like one possessed by the devil: "I want to go home!" Now she understands that she is locked up and has to stay here. What luck that Leszek is not here! It is to be hoped they are being left in peace in Poruby. But can one trust people? Someone could denounce them. What was Hania able to save and hide of our clothing, furniture, and paintings? A list was made of our bedding and clothing and Hania was supposed to sell them; money from the sale will go to the NKVD, and they supposedly will send it to me--this is the system that one must follow. We got some cabbage soup, some cooked millet and a quarter loaf of bread. We were promised rolls and milk for the children. Unfortunately, there is not a drop of water; we cannot even think about washing ourselves. With a sweep of her hand, Krzysia spilled her cabbage soup all over my coat, sweater and bedding. I was mad, but what can one do.
The train passed many stations. Children are being given neither water nor milk. We were able to buy only rolls and dry cakes by paying twenty kopecks apiece. I decided not to buy anything unless I find myself in an extreme need. We have enough bread; if only we were given some water we could make tea. We were given a bit of coal at one of the stations. We are meeting a train from Nadrozna. Our train consists of forty cars. If each boxcar like ours contains 30 people, it means that each train carries 1,200 people. And how many trains left on that sorrowful Saturday of April 13 - the 39th anniversary of Hala's death? Lucky are those who did not live to see these days. They are deporting even the organist Lewandowski and his wife, both well into their eighties, together with their daughter Mrs. Grzywaczowa, the wife of a retired policeman.
At last we managed to get two buckets of dirty water, thanks to Mrs. Blumbergowa who waited at the well for three hours. A train overtook us with people deported from Przemysl and Zimna Woda.
Sunday, April 21, Svizy (Sviazy), 9 a. m.
A better day has begun. We received a bucket of water, the day is brighter and the sun shines. We met a train from Gródek and Podhajce. Mrs. Szkudlapska, who talks to everybody (she reminds me of the late Wala) talked to a man who had in his hands a map of Russia. He was saying that the direction of our journey has changed. It is possible that we are going towards the Black Sea. I do not believe it! It is the ninth day of our journey; we do not know what has happened at the front, in politics, or in our home. So much may have changed. My knee feels completely stiff, in general I feel weak. Yesterday I ate one egg, a cup of cabbage soup with millet, a cup of tea and a couple of slices of dry bread. No egg today: here in the Soviet Union it is not easy to buy an egg and if one finds it, the price is one ruble. A view of an endless green field of rye is beautiful. However, so many fields lie fallow, some still with last year's stubble. We see lots of aspen forests, but all of them very young; there are no older forests. When the trees barely begin to grow green leaves, members of the kolkhoz bring herds of cows and sheep and use them as pastures.
A woman told us that she earns 4 rubles a day. An egg costs 1.20 rubles, a loaf of bread, 3. What awaits us there? This worry is with us all the time! I should have tried to escape in Jaworów. I might have succeeded. When, in the afternoon I went to the toilet, the guard did not recognize me as one of the deportees and even aimed his rifle at me, not allowing me to enter the compound. Mrs. Wittmanowa got out of the boxcar and gathered information about our destination. She learned that we are being taken to southern Asia, which means southern Siberia. We feel totally overwhelmed by despair. Only young Józef is trying to lift our spirits up. It is already 4:00 p.m. and we have been given neither bread nor dinner. At all the stations water is dirty, even the kipiatok. I have only one wish, that Mieczek and Marysia avoid the "hereditary illness" of Staszek [brother of Jadwiga and Zofia and a prisoner of war whom the Russians killed in 1919 near Taiga station in Siberia; the phrase "hereditary illness" was used so only family members would understand that it meant perishing in Russia].
Monday, April 22, Kuznetsk
We have met a train from Sokal, full of Red Army soldiers with whom Wittmanowa and Szkudlapska got involved in a conversation often interrupted by outbursts of laughter from the soldiers. It is sunny but cold. Yesterday we got neither bread nor dinner. Also today the Jewish celebration of the Passover has begun; they will be eating only matzo for three days. Yesterday Mrs. Kochowa sang beautiful and melancholy Jewish songs. Then the Jews sang with us Polish patriotic songs. Despite this harmony, if we are locked up any longer, there will be a quarrel. Yesterday Pryfcia Blumberg and Nisiek Baumohl started to bicker. Nisiek stated that nobody likes Jews but everyone needs them, and he told us another Jewish joke.
Spring! So much work is waiting for me in our plundered and devastated land [of Poland]. But here I am, the soul and engine of the Szczeploty "Monastyr" [the family farm was built on the site of a devastated 17th century Basilian monastery], being taken into another corner of the world. Am I going to return to my loved ones, and in what shape?
A woman from Ulicko bought half a liter of milk for 2 rubles. The monotony of the landscape has come to an end. On the horizon there appeared a range of hills, meandering dry riverbeds, a glowing yellow sandstone cliff, and blocks of peat piled in mounds. I noticed a huge flock of sheep, at least 500. Kolkhozy or sovkhozy are not making a good impression: a few stacks of straw, a long barn, a stable, two buildings under an unfinished roof, no fences and no trees. Small dwellings for workers give an impression of poverty and neglect. People we see are mainly of the working class: poorly dressed, no smiles on their faces. We are stopped in an empty field--are we again going to miss our prisoners' rations? It is already 1 p.m. but nobody seems to care. In the morning, when I was shaking off my blanket, the guard shouted at me: "You will dust your things off when you reach your destination!" When Mrs. Ciesielska and I flooded him with a stream of words he quickly marched away.
The sun hides behind a cloud but is never extinguished.
I found this inspiring phrase from [the 14th-century chronicler] Wincenty Kadlubek in the first volume of History of Polish Literature that Mrs. Szkudlapska brought with her. I read it during stops trying somehow to break the limitless boredom of our hopeless journey. Two of his thoughts caught my attention: the first, as consolation that my sun is still not extinguished, the second, as a strengthening of my belief that I did the right thing trying to multiply the inherited wealth of my family. Kadlubek was only 58 years old when he exchanged his bishop's attire for a penitent's rags. He left Kraków and locked himself up in a lonely cell in Jedrzejów Monastery, devoting the rest of his life to scholarly research and meditation.
Our Jews managed to trade a bit of tobacco for four dry boards from a railway serviceman. What joy! We have now some fuel for two more days. It is so fortunate that we have a small iron stove on which we can make tea or coffee.
Everyone is storming the door; we badly need to relieve ourselves. Krzysia's chamberpot saves us.
It is futile to try to match the wind, to run after time,
Three roads are difficult for people to travel at all times:
by Wespazjan Kochowski [1633-1700]
A doctor came and told us: "tomorrow you will be home." May his words come true and may we be freed from the confines of this boxcar. Now and again there are moments when Krzysia screams and the Jews talk loudly in Yiddish, and this is enough to drive one mad. We arrived in Siczyn (Sichyn) on the Volga. Let it be true what the doctor told us, and let us not be sent to Siberia. We hear that this place has many factories and vineyards; everybody will be working at one's own vocation. I may sign up as a gardener.
A farmer from Podhajce told me that he was away in Lwów when his wife and four-year-old daughter were arrested. For two days he tried to catch up with the train. How happy he was to be reunited with his family in the boxcar. What has happened to Winia: is she being deported as well? Is she going to be assigned to the same place? If this could be true, we would feel safer being together.
On Tuesday and Wednesday (April 16-17, 1940), some selected people were arrested, and then on Friday and Saturday their families and some other people were rounded up.
We are going along the Volga, a beautiful wide river, an immense expanse of water. This is the only thing up to now that I have admired.
Batraky on the Volga
This is a place with many oil storage tanks built of brick or stone. The houses here are small and built as chaotically as everywhere else. The factory club, a two story building, is nice. Two people from our boxcar were let out to bring water: it is dirty and foul tasting as usual. Soon Mieczek will be celebrating Orthodox Easter with the Jarosiewicz family. I feel sorry for him. He must get used to much less comfortable new surroundings. On top of that he is overcome by worry about his mother. My dearest one! Try to find your peace like your mother in writing a diary about the thunderbolts that strike us time and again. The first thunderbolt confiscated our farm on September 26 [Soviet occupation]; the second took away our home on September 28 [thrown out of their house to live in a miller's house]; the third struck when Winia was arrested on April 9, and the fourth--my deportation on April 13. Then our family nest was smashed and abandoned, but you young ones will rebuild it again [as her parents had done after World War I]. If you, my dear ones, can only survive in our native land.
Tuesday, April 23, Samara
The train ride along the Volga left me with a wonderful impression: the full moon was glowing with a pylon of glittering light. Then we crossed a five kilometer-long bridge, as the doctor said, in four minutes. This morning we followed along another bigger but muddy river. Its water course was surprisingly regulated, but water was rippled with very high waves.
It's a sunny day with a strong wind: the plate on the roof of our boxcar is rattling; we are sitting, or rather lying with the windows closed. For two days we have not been given any hot meals. However, today already at 4 a.m. we were given dumplings made of white flour and cabbage soup, a watery sour liquid. I ate quite a bit and with a good appetite. There are a few dumplings left for later. On the station local people were selling eggs for 1 ruble apiece and a liter of curded milk for 7 rubles. Our Jews made a dash for the eggs. They would rather starve than eat non-kosher food.
A strong wind tore off the roof and side of the railway boxcar in which the Red Army guards were traveling; we lost the upper part of the smoke tube from our stove. The train is standing among pine forest, the sun is shining warmly. The forest smells fresh. If only we could get out of this wretched boxcar which is making us sick. We all suffered from something, but now we feel a bit better.
We have been passing through a nice country: birches and grass are green, violet crocuses and yellow flowers are blossoming. Now again we are surrounded by an endless stretch of flat land covered by moving sands blown around by the wind. The train stops at a big station, some fifteen tracks. Two weeks have already gone by since I said good-bye to Winia, for how long, maybe forever?
How is she surviving this journey with all her health problems, her migraine? Is she going to endure all this without clothing and her personal things? In the morning I talked to a Ukrainian woman from a train going to Siberia. She claimed that she decided to go there of her own free will. A widow with three children, 13 to18 years old. When I described to her how our farmers live, she concluded, "To hell with wealth, here only a person who works gets to eat."
Wednesday, April 24 (in Asia)
We have already crossed into Asia. During the night we passed the Ural River. At 2 p.m. in Orenburg we were given a soup with noodles and some kind of groats. I woke up to eat and then continued to doze. The worst of it is that we cannot wash up, there is no water. And, we have stopped in an empty field. At the previous station we met a train from Lesko and Sambor. A man told us that four days ago his wife gave birth to a child in the railway boxcar, and also that a five-week old child of one Mrs. Podgórski, a wife of an arrested judge, died during the journey. So much wrong has been done to the entire country of Poland trampled by the brutal aggressors. So much unhappiness inflicted on families by these Bolsheviks. We noticed here camels, flocks of sheep, and herds of cows of very mixed crossbreeding. An endless flat plain stretches everywhere around us.
Akbulak, 9 p.m.
We thought we had arrived at the place of resettlement, but it was not so! 3,500 kilometers [2,200 miles] are behind us, but we are told there are still 800 kilometers to go. I hope that by Friday we shall be at our destination. Mrs. Wittmanowa spotted an immense louse on Mrs. Kochowa; I have never seen anything so big in all my life! The group of seven from Ulicko spread these insects. Mrs. Kochowa and Baumohlowa sleep among them on the floor and easily collect the insects. The train from Sambor has caught up with us. News has spreads around that many Poles are being deported. I talked to a lady whose husband, a high school teacher, crossed with the Polish Army to Hungary. She and her small son are being deported. I could have had a longer chat but Krzysia started to scream and pee all over her mother's dress and bedding.
Aktyubinsk, Kazakh SSR [the Soviet Republic of Kazakhstan], Thursday, April 25, 8 a.m.
We arrived here yesterday evening. The train is being shunted back and forth. We expect that we will be unloaded here. They keep asking us which district we are from. Some of our people went to fetch dinner and bread. The chill penetrates the body. Two weeks have passed since I parted with Mieczek, my only son; he never leaves my thoughts. Is he secure? I know that they [the Jarosiewicz family] care for him well, but what has become of the people of Wierzbiany: were they too arrested and deported? I heard that people living near the main road were taken despite stiff resistance.
Aktyubinsk makes an impression of a sprawling city, though as all places around here it consists of small one-story houses. Birch trees are all covered with green leaves. We were told that sixteen boxcars would be unloaded here.
Yesterday I was in a deep despair: my diary got lost! It was only this morning that I found it at the back of the boxcar. It slipped into a crack in such a way that I could only see the edge of it. I wonder if Hania was able to save my diaries which I have written for 35 years; she asked me what to do with them when I was leaving.
9 a. m.
A military officer was here and said that we would be unloaded and moved to a "road transport" (truck). He checked a list of those present. To my great satisfaction I answered that Mieczek, Marysia and Leszek are not here.
Friday, April 26, 1940, Sarsai
Yesterday at 3:30 p.m. we were loaded with our luggage onto a truck. By a stroke of luck, I was allowed to sit with the driver; with my sore knee I would not have been able to climb into the truck. The ride on the rugged roads on only barely visible tracks through the endless desert expanse of the steppe was hellish. The truck was rocking and the passengers with it. After two hours we had a forty-five minute stop in Novorossiiskoye and then again on the road into the unknown. In the meantime the sun has set and we arrived here in total darkness. It appears that there is not enough room for all of us in the hut. Mrs. Wolczakowa, a wife of a judge from Kraków, and a number of other people waited outdoors in the cold night for a horse cart to bring their luggage to a place grandiosely called a club. On the way our truck broke down and the driver spent two hours repairing it before transporting us to the club. . . .
The whole building consists of a big room with two stoves, six windows on one side with a flattened earthen floor. In the room a colossal statue of Stalin with a half-broken arm reaching out keeps staring at us. We warn each other that if it breaks off it could kill someone.
Poverty here is extreme. Houses with flat roofs, some built of sun-dried bricks made of grass and mud crudely piled up and bound with poor mortar. For fuel they use sun-dried animal dung.
. . . .
I walk a lot enjoying my newly regained ‘freedom' after being confined to a boxcar for twelve and a half days. Today was a cloudy and windy day--I have started to tan. Janka has suffered bad sunburn, and her face and eyes hurt badly. Only seven families are left here. Where are they going to send us?
(To be continued in the next issue)