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Death by a Thousand Cuts

A Polish Woman’s Diary of Deportation, Forced Labor and Death in Kazakhstan: April 13, 1940–May 26, 1941
Part Three--Continued from April 2002 issue

Zofia Ludwika Malachowska Ptasnik

Translated by Leszek M. Karpinski

Edited by John D. L. McIntosh, with assistance from Bogdan Czaykowski and Kenneth Baulk

Tuesday, May 7, 1940

Yesterday we were surprised to see Jozef late in the evening. He took leave from his work gang to see how we were doing and if we needed bread. At his base, one is allowed to buy 3 lbs. bread daily. He promised to send us some at the first opportunity. People in his work gang live and cook in dugout earthen huts. They must complete the seeding by May 10; if the date is not met, all the supervisors will be arrested. This is the reason they have no time off. Our third day of work and Jania, who is always in the pink of health, could not go to work because she has a fever and a headache.

Thursday, May 9, 1940

Yesterday thirteen new people were brought here from Janow. Mrs. Zielinska with her sister-in-law, owner of some 18 hectares in Jamielno and a villa near Janów; Mrs. Radomska-Ujwaryowa from Sieradz near Lodz, who escaped [from the Germans] hoping to be safe in Janów [under the Russians] with her mother Mrs. Wilczkiewiczowa; both of them were deported with Mrs. Radomska's two children. Mrs. Brewczynska's husband has been arrested; she is a mother with four children. All have been housed under miserable conditions in the old granary which recently had some windows replaced. They spent last night in a school room near us. . . .

Saturday, May 11, 1940

The new arrivals are two Orlowski women, Zdzisia, the deaf Mrs. Halewiczowa, and Mrs. Szczepanska, an engineer's wife who has already fallen out with some of her companions and is trying to get close to the Orlowski women, counting on their help. Today we had a visit from an official who once again recorded our year of birth, information about property, how many workers we employed [in Poland], membership in political parties, if anyone in the family had been arrested, etc.

I have been working for six days and feel content. Even on this poor nourishment I feel healthy, sleep well, and have a good appetite. We are told that this place is located some 2,400 feet above sea level. The air of the steppe is clean and fresh, but our lodging smells like a cabin without a chimney. The same building houses a co-op store with nothing to buy, a school room, a schoolmaster's lodging and a couple of Kazakh families. The first few days were very difficult when we were exposed to their curiosity. They looked through our things and wanted to buy clothing, watches, tobacco, etc.

.. . .

When I translated the news from the newspapers about successes of the German campaign, the people from Janów accused me of being a traitor to Poland. They told me: "How can anyone believe all this propaganda, especially printed for Poles?" To avoid any further conflict I will never again talk to them about politics.

Wednesday, May 15, 1940

I am celebrating my holy patroness' day [name day] sitting at home and painstakingly perusing Russian newspapers. I did not go to work today. My poor knee has started to hurt again from lifting dung. I hoped that the pain would ease with the help of an overnight compress. Finally I've decided to take a day off to rest. I hope to get well soon. At present I prefer to be with this large company of people. It is even possible to work a little, four hours in the morning and then, after a noon break, three hours more until evening. Then in the remaining time I brood about things that are gone and will never return. Since my dear sister Winia and I have always thought of ourselves as a pair of horses from the same harness, she is probably thinking about me. But what about my son, does he remember me? For my birthday last year he wrote a beautiful poem. I wonder what his thoughts are at this moment? I feel so sorry for my little boy who unluckily was born at the wrong time. When he was only three, he lost his father. For two years he had trouble with his tonsils. Then, the death of Aunt Jadwiga [Peplowska] and Uncle Bronislaw [Popiel, husband of her sister Jadwiga] was a sad experience for a sensitive child. How happy he was when he passed the high school entrance exams and wore his first school uniform. He had his own small room in Marysia's apartment in Lwow [the Bladyes]. In September all was lost. He now lives among strangers. My poor child! His future seemed so secure with his loving father and mother. Now, so suddenly at the age of thirteen, he has no one. He has all the important abilities, good nature and he was surrounded by human love. I have named the Baums [longtime family friends] as his legal guardians. I hope that under their guidance he will grow up to be a good man.

Yesterday I wrote my fourth card to him in Russian, informing him that I'm healthy and work on a farm. I gave him my address and asked for a speedy reply. I suspect that he received only my first card mailed in Zloczow; the others from here were confiscated.

Thursday, May 16, 1940

For the last few days the place has been surveyed, as we were told, for a new railway. We will be moved to another location. I think the building of this new railway has to do with the war. Yesterday the two Wilczek boys [Wilczkiewiczes] came for a visit from the work gang. One of them brought some bread for his mother, the other one for Mrs. Brewczynska--he did not even bother to see his own mother. This morning the cart driver brought us 4 lbs. of bread from Jozef. What joy, because we had started to worry as there was no more flour for flat patties (which are not very good, but at least they are something to eat). From the mushrooms gathered by Jania we will have soup for supper. For dinner we had buttermilk with cheese soup. I have even put on some weight. Went to work but the wind is so furious that after two hours we headed back home. Mrs. Wilczkiewiczowa and Mrs. Zielinska, the major's wife, are the only ones who can endure the work but even they did not want to work in this cold weather. And to think that yesterday was such a beautiful, sunny, warm day.

Friday, May 17, 1940

The day is sunny but cold after yesterday's windstorm. At 9 a.m. everything is still covered with white frost.

Saturday, May 18, 1940

For two days we have been cleaning the kolkhoz cattle sheds. The feeding troughs are made of clay and sod bricks. This must be the first time since the shed was built that anybody has tried to clean them. There is such a crust of dried out mold and filth waiting for us to come and scrub it off. What annoys us is that all this precious fertilizer is carted away to a garbage dump on the banks of the small river. It should be used to nourish the steppe which is covered with dry scarce grass. I recall how passionately I gathered all natural remains like dry plants, vegetable peels and ashes to a compost pile which we later mixed with lime and used to fertilize our fields and vegetable gardens. We live here like animals: we eat, gather kiziak and small twigs for fuel, go to work and then quickly rush home and eat again, and sleep. . . .

Saturday, May 19, 1940

A beautiful sunny day. I stay home waiting for water to warm up. I intend to give my body a complete wash in Mrs. Brewczynska's large metal washing bowl. Our daily wash in the presence of live-in companions, and often visitors, is usually limited to a quick hand and face washing. The primitiveness of our daily life abuses all our cultural habits. Visitors keep telling us, "do not despair, you will get used to it and will live like others around you," but we still delude ourselves that we soon will be back home. For this intention we say daily a holy rosary and a litany. The group is growing larger everyday: Mrs. Ujwaryowa, Basia Brewczynska, sometimes Genia with her mother. Mrs. Szkudlapska leads the prayer in such a moving way, weaving into the incantations of the rosary many of the thoughts that are in our hearts and minds. After yesterday's work, Mrs. Ujwaryowa suffered an attack of gallstones. Her pain was so severe that she fainted. She feels and looks miserable. Her brother, Alfred Ujwary, unexpectedly had a day off from the work gang because the engine of the plough he operated broke down. Seeding of the wheat over there is almost complete and soon everybody will be back. The sixty-year-old Mrs. Zielinska is always full of energy and enthusiasm. She keeps saying that this hard life adds to her strength. The fifty-eight-year-old Mrs. Dobrowolska, sister of Mrs. Radomska, a retired teacher, is completely useless at any work. She complains endlessly of pain in her back, legs, etc. The upravliaiushchii [chairman] and the zaveduiushchii [manager] saw through the game; they told Tadzio that we were not producing enough and the newly arrived group "ne rabotaet harasho" [is not working hard].

The steppe was so wonderful today when Mrs. Szkudlapska and I went to gather kiziak. When we stopped for a moment, I stretched myself on the ground facing the sun the way our Alina [Popiel, her cousin] used to do. What is their fate? When will I know what has happened to Winia. . . . Are we ever going to see each other again?

Monday, May 20, 1940

Today I wrote a card to Mrs. Niemczewska, the other day to Marys [Marian Bladye] and to the Jarosiewiczes. Six days have gone by without any news about my dear family, home and country. I was up at 5 a. m. to admire the beautiful sunrise and gather some flowers instead of mushrooms, which I looked for but could not find. In the steppe I saw a Kazakh family: parents and children by their poor cart. A double-hump camel was grazing nearby. They must have arrived from far away as it was only near Aktyubinsk, 60 miles away, that we saw camels. I have never seen them here. We see daily these poor people with their shabby belongings on ox-drawn carts being resettled from one place to another. The local people are not good looking and they look untidy. We are told that many of them are afflicted with syphilis. Two women without noses and one without an eye live in the village. The children do not look healthy with their big swollen stomachs and thin legs. They own one cow and a few chickens. Their diet consists of dairy products--of milk and eggs. The government allowance of flour and groats is extremely small. Bread is not available at all. They bake bread patties on small sheets of metal heated by kiziak from underneath. The zaveduiushchii has gone to the work gang to fetch some bread without assigning any work to us. This being so, and it being such a beautiful day, I went to the steppe and reclined myself on the remains of a straw stack in the warm sunshine. Genia Brewczynska came with news from a young Kazakh who listened to the radio at the NKVD office in Novorossiiskoye. He told her that France has taken half of Germany, the Germans have broken their pact with Russia, Japan has threatened Russia and the local Kazakhs only wait for Turkey to join with them. If only something of importance could happen! Later on we discovered that all Genia's news items were her own invention.

Tuesday, May 21, 1940

Again his morning I had to stay home as my knee gave me so much pain. In the afternoon I went to work. However, my knee swelled up and in addition my legs got sunburned. I worry about my legs but at the same time think about my poor father: how much he would have given to be able to walk like me. [Kajetan Malachowski was paralyzed and spent the end of his life in a wheelchair.]

Janka spends lots of her free time with a triangular fortune telling device, persistently talking to spirits, asking them when we will return. They tell her, "Tomorrow! Because Russians are afraid of Poles and will allow them to go free!" I showed this poor child the game with spirits but now regret it because it is turning into something serious. We just bought 2 lbs. fish for 5 rubles and will be having a ball.

Wednesday, May 22, 1940

This morning Genia received a card from her catechist from Janow [in Soviet-occupied western Ukraine] which was mailed fourteen days ago. The Wilczkiewiczes got two cards from Boryslaw. They are now back from the work gang and work with us making kiziak. From a big pile of dung we separate a portion on the ground, add water and straw and then run a horse over it several times to mix it well. Next we load and press the mix into two wooden forms. The finished product, when it is ready, looks like bricks, which we then pile up for drying in the sun. At first our work was very clumsily done until the manager's wife showed us how to organize this production. The pay is meager, 25 rubles for 1,000 bricks. One happy event of this day was that we poluchili [received] 6 lbs. bread for 2.70 rubles. Yesterday we had to pay 4 rubles for half that amount. Today I sent a card to Mieczek and Mrs. Niemczewska wondering when and if I will get a reply.

Thursday, May 23, 1940: Corpus Christi

This afternoon I worked together with Mr. Wilczkiewicz, Mrs. Zielinska, Mrs. Radomska, Mrs. Dobrowolska, Mrs. Brewczynska and Tadzio. I moved manure with a pitchfork while others were forming bricks of kiziak by hand.

Just as Mrs. Ujwaryowa, the two Brewczynskas and I were finishing our evening May service to the Blessed Virgin, a messenger from the farm office arrived calling us to a meeting with the zaveduiushchii in the school room. Feeling tired, I did not go and fell asleep. After two hours my companions came back from the meeting and woke me up. They had discussed the haymaking. To increase the harvest yield to 15,000 cubic meters, we were ordered to begin working much earlier as of the 25th of May. Last year's harvest was not enough to feed the cows which had to be sent away to another farm. The work gang members are going haying. I would like to go too, as haying is nicer work then making kiziak and the food is better, but they do not want us there.

Until now we had an agreement with the zaveduiushchii that instead of working on Sundays and on other Catholic holidays, we will work on the Russian official holidays. This agreement was still in force yesterday. However , this morning Alfred Wilczkiewicz and I were told by the manager that we must work today and also that our working hours will be longer: 7-12 and 3-7, altogether nine hours. I protested that it is too long. We don't have enough strength without the food we are accustomed to having. We live on leftover money that we collect among ourselves. Milk costs 3 rubles and an egg 1 ruble, way over the normal price. "Buy yourselves a cow," he advises us. I remind him about the promise he made upon our arrival to build bunks for sleeping. "Kupite sebe krovati" [buy beds for yourselves] he answers. I tell him we don't have money. "To zarabotaite!" [then earn some] is his reply, and I ask him, "But how? Our pay is twenty-five rubles for 1,000 bricks of kiziak and we have to pay such high prices for everything." He tells us to follow him and he will show us how to work. We try to explain that today is our very important holiday and we will not work. "You should forget about holidays," he tells us. I reply, "We are old and it is impossible to forget." Mr. Wilczkiewicz officially declares that they will go to work, and so they did, but Mrs. Ciesielska and I stayed home. The major's wife rushed over a couple of times to warn us about the consequence of such a revolt. I told her that only with resistance and solidarity can we win any relief and that "you are just strikebreakers." I expected to be punished and not receive flour, but we got 2 lbs. flour and 1 lb. barley each.

Friday, May 24, 1940

A sunny day with a horribly powerful wind that blows clouds of dust carrying small stones that painfully hit our bare legs. Tumbleweeds travel for miles and when stopped in a hole or against other objects serve us as precious fuel. Yesterday we went to the steppe and gathered four sacks of them so we have a sizable supply of fuel. I'm in love with the steppe with its wide-open horizon. Here and there a small hill, ravine, boulders with fast moving gray or green lizards and gophers rummaging at night. I have difficulty seeing all these with my shortsighted eyes. I like gathering flowers, some yellow with leaves like carnations, others light brown like snails. I discovered wild garlic with blossoms, also small bushes covered with tiny white flowers. How refreshing is the scent of thyme.

Near the farm flows a small river walled by a low dam holding back water for a pond. Below there is only a dry bed filled with many colorful stones. I picked some of them for Mieczek but wonder if he is ever going to see them?

Tuesday, May 28, 1940, the Farm

Yesterday Mr. Wilczkiewicz received a card from a friend in Janow. It reads: "Be happy, the spring is here, it's getting warm. Today we celebrated Whitsuntide at home; it's getting cloudy." This fills our hearts with new hope. Everyone in our colony reads these words as good political news. Though the newspapers talk about German victories, we try to dismiss them as misleading propaganda. Rumors circulating around tell us different stories.

The Germans have suffered a defeat; the Soviet Union has been invaded by fourteen countries. . . a big war is coming. We also hear that soon we will go back home. It would be a good thing for me as my money is almost gone. I lent sixty rubles to the Szkudlapskis but when we get paid the amount they receive is kept a secret. At present I have three rubles in my pocket. A special day for us: those who work are allowed to buy 3.5 oz. sugar and 3.5 oz. candy for 1.10 rubles. For the past two days our rations of bread were 7 oz. a day, but there is no bread today. Mrs. Szkudlapska is fixing soup, which will be our breakfast and supper. Yesterday we had a ball–pierogies with cheese. When we were busy cooking, Józef came from his work gang to see us. He worked there since May 3rd, without any time off for rest. They work under very heavy pressure to complete the spring planting. He is tired, dirty, covered with dust, and hungry. They were without any kitchen facilities for the last two days. Luckily Mrs. Orlowska shared her food with him. Seeing with his own eyes how stone-broke we were for food and money, he decided to join the work gang gathering hay. At least he will get cheaper food for 1.25 rubles a day. He has not received any cash for the work he did and now must pay 20 rubles extra for bread from his own pocket.

It is a good thing that Mieczek is not with me. We both would be living in poverty splitting our meager resources two ways. I wonder how difficult life must be for my dearest sister Winia who was taken without clothing, bedding or money. Let's hope she survives these horrible times. . . .

Sunday June 2, 1940

Despite Mrs. Szkudlapska's protests, Tadzio, Janka, the two Wilczkiewiczes and two Kazakh girls were loaded on oxcarts and taken away to weed the wheat fields. They were given hoes to cut out tumbleweed. Now we still enjoy our holiday, but what will happen tomorrow? Who will bring water by oxcart, trample the kiziak, and transport it on the sledge to people forming bricks? My hands are cracked and chapped like a kitchen grate. In spite of washing they always look dirty. For the last few days the supply of provisions has been getting worse as there has been neither bread nor flour. We are lucky that Mrs. Szkudlapska found somewhere a driver who yesterday and today brought us bread and will pay an extra 100 rubles for the trousers. Jozef wrote us from the base that things are also bad and food is expensive. There is no bread because the oven collapsed. Everything is plokho[bad]! One day a Kazakh passed by; his cart was driven by an ox and a camel. He had a couple of sheep for sale asking 250 rubles each. Local sheep have heavy thick tails in which they accumulate fat. This breed, Aris aries laticanda, is common in Syria, Palestine and Arabia.We were told that in the past, when Kazakhs kept hundreds of sheep, the price was 50 kopecks each. They used to roast a whole animal on a spit and whoever entered the hut was welcomed to share the meal. The co-op store sells mutton for 1 ruble a pound; it's too expensive for us. We are all living now on money borrowed from Mrs. Ciesielska who managed to sell her husband's suit for 600 rubles. She has only 300 rubles left. Everything is so expensive: 2 lbs. butter, 40 rubles; 2 lbs. cheese, 6 rubles; eggs, 1 ruble each; milk, 3 rubles for a quart.

Jozef wrote about Mrs. Lewkowiczowa's death, probably of a heart attack, at the age of 58.

Early this morning before breakfast I went to the steppe and exercised for the first time in months. At present I do not feel exhausted considering the long hours of physical work I did in the month of May. At 11 a.m., I went and washed in the "little lake" as we call this shallow, overgrown, muddy pond of brown water. Later in the day, in the company of Mrs. Ciesielska and Mrs. Szkudlapska, I wandered around the steppe gathering kiziak. For the first time I carried a full sack; before, Tadzio or his mother would do it. Thank God I can still cope with heavy physical work in spite of such a loss of weight. It is truly painful to look at my skin-covered bones. Even the zaveduiushchii states his opinion: "tsotka kharasho rabotaet" [auntie is working hard]. He called me first "mamka" [little mother]. Little Krysia calls me "Pani Pacinkowa." At times when I'm up to my elbows pressing bricks of cow dung, I think how fitting this name is for the situation [in Polish, packac means to smear, and Pani Pacinkowa translates as Mrs. Smeared-Face].

Today I gathered a bunch of violets, yellow and pink flowers. How beautiful those pink little flowers are with their tiny silver leaves which spread their long vine-like stems on the ground. Then, here and there, one's eye rests on clusters of small yellow flowers glittering like gold. All these plants remind me of a floral carpet. The twitter of birds sounds everywhere, but there are no people around although houses are located only fifteen minutes away. My only consolation here is this immense open steppe, covered with fragrant flowers. I grow fond of it although everything is so different from our fields, meadows and forests. Especially beautiful here are the sunrises and sunsets. Our companions from Janów claimed that once at sunset they saw two suns.

Saturday, June 8, 1940

I have stopped worrying. Feeling totally helpless, I am leaving everything to fate. Every day I say a novena to St. Anthony asking for news from Winia, Mieczek and Marysia. I'm grateful to God for having enough to eat and good relations with Mrs. Szkudlapska.

[Marginal mote added March 28, 1941] If I return to my country, I want to be in good shape to work and rebuild Szczeploty. If I do not return--my God!--grant me peace and readiness to die; do not prolong this pain.

Sunday, June 9, 1940

I am worried about my knee. It is still swollen although it excuses me from the hard work in the alfalfa fields. Yesterday was a very hot day causing the workers to suffer greatly from thirst.

Wednesday, June 12, 1940

"Vykhodnoi den" [a day off]. Everybody is home. Yesterday Józef came home and with pride handed his mother the 80 rubles he earned for two weeks working with the seeding gang. A very hot day; I spent three hours at the steppe by the haystack. It is a place where I can be left in peace and not disturb anyone.

The hay is transported in a strange way--one single Kazakh drives two oxen pulling a train of two heavily loaded carts. Three times a day he loads and unloads the hay all by himself. Today, Mrs. Hurtovaia, the wife of the Russian tractor driver, came and stacked up the hay. She said she would get 6 kopecks for a hundred kilos.

Thursday, June 13, 1940

My knee is not improving. I stay home.

Friday, June 14, 1940

Mrs. Szudlapska and I tried to grind some wheat, but the Kazakh women have taken back their quern-stones. We did not make much flour. We eat bread, soup twice a day and in the evening coffee without sugar but with a drop of skim milk. Yesterday I bought from Mrs. Szkudlapska 3 oz. butter to spread on my bread, and it made it taste so good! Only maybe three times since I left home have I had a small piece of bread with butter.

Sunday, June 16, 1940

Today the food situation is plokho [bad]. For breakfast, watery soup with cheese--for dinner dumplings in water with a splash of skim milk. Janka and Genia went by truck to the ore mine hoping to fetch some food but one cannot count on luck. For the foreseeable future, our diet will consist of watery soup with cheese and maybe a hard-boiled egg--the only thing we can get here. We make our own curds by adding a couple of spoonfuls of starter curd from the previous day to freshly boiled and chilled milk. In about four hours it curdles and by heating it up we make cheese. Procurement of food has becomes very difficult.

Friday, June 21, 1940

One must rabotat [work] to poluchat [receive] bread. On Wednesday, 2 lbs. for two days, today, 1.5 lb. Our entire menu consists of thin soup for breakfast and supper and coffee with a drop of skim milk for lunch. Bread helps us to satiate hunger and I'm sure I would devour with great pleasure a whole loaf by myself. The truth is we do not eat anything nutritious. If we could only have the food of our servants [in Szczeploty] who had so often complained though they received as much as they could eat of buckwheat, barley, potatoes, pierogies and dumplings always well basted with fat or milk as well as buttermilk, milk and cheese. . . .

Our Polish colony has grown by one person, Jozio Chubowski from Powidno, Grodek District. The little boy told us he is the son of a policeman from Lwow [Lviv] named Stanislaw Kumalski. The Janow colony took him under their roof when they heard about a Polish boy running the streets who had been separated from his aunt. It is a good deed but the boy is unruly and will cause lots of trouble. Twelve of them already live in one room. Eight of them once lived independently in their own homes and now are rounded up and forced to live together in one room. Old married women, an old spinster, two young men, a young teenage girl and three--now four--children 2 to 5 years old now coexist in a communal life.

Monday, June 24, 1940

It is the name day of my late Jan [Prof. Jan Ptasnik, her husband]. I recall that ten years ago a group of his former students, led by his two assistant professors, Drs. Charewicz and Wagner, visited his grave and brought a silver laurel wreath with a sign "To our beloved late master." Now Wagner is dead, and Lucia is perhaps hiding somewhere. Once I received a note from her signed with an assumed name. My family and friends are all scattered and I am here all alone. I have been reading Thomas a Kempis's Imitation of Christ in which I find new strength. The experience of these hard times has given me a new spiritual depth and power to survive.

From somewhere Jozef bought a German translation of Mikhail Sholokhov's novel Der Stille Don [And Quiet Flows the Don]. After morning exercise at my beloved haystack, buying milk and eating a bit of dry bread, I dressed up and went back to the haystack with volume three of the book, in which the author describes the struggle of the Don Cossacks, supported by General Denikin's volunteers, against the Red Army in 1918. The Cossacks were under the leadership of Hetman-General Piotr Krasnov. My understanding of this book has changed entirely since I first read it a few years ago when I judged it dull and difficult to read. We are starved for the printed word.

Friday, June 28, 1940

Yesterday I went alone to Novorossiiskoye. The 100 rubles sent by the first wire were paid out to me, but the other wire, also for 100 rubles addressed to Sarsai, will be paid over there. The Novorossiiskoye postmaster promised to instruct the local Sarsai postal clerk to pay the money to me.

I said my prayer to St. Anthony. Lately I have said many prayers and novenas asking for Winia's freedom from prison..

We just had a visit from our Jewish people from Niemirow, who now are living on the Second Farm. All the women have grown thin . Mrs. Baumohlowa received a letter from her brother who wrote that not all the arrested people are being badly treated in the prison. [In Novorossiiskoye]... I met a woman from a part of Poland that, prior to 1918, was a part of Russia. She was sentenced to 5 years of forced resettlement in Kazakhstan and still has two years to go. Her husband was arrested and she has no information about his fate. She has a 7-year-old daughter who is left under the care of her sister-in-law. . .

[Note added on November 17] This woman has now been sentenced to ten years in prison.

Saturday, June 29, 1940

A long letter has arrived from Hania. She writes that after my departure some villagers forced their way into the house shouting that they would take everything and chase her away, but she somehow survived. All the house possessions like furniture, bedding and clothing that were inventoried, had to be sold and the money forwarded to the Raikom [Soviet District Administrative Unit]. She was given a piece of land near the mill which has been seeded with winter rape. As recently as last fall it was used for pasture for the village stock. She had it ploughed and planted potatoes, beans, cabbage and beets.

Friday, July 5, 1940

From July 1st and for three days, I have been working with the work gang poisoning gophers that were causing damage to the cornfields by chewing off the stalks. We put a cotton swab on a stick, dip it in a bottle of poisonous acid and then push it into the hole, which is next covered with a handful of grass and a shovel full of earth tightly pressed down. One person carries the bottle and sticks while the other uses the shovel.

On Tuesday afternoon it rained so heavily that we could not work and had to return. The trip was awful. The earth here, when it gets a sprinkle of water, turns into a sticky clay which makes walking or driving impossible. Carts and trucks have to detour through rough, dry riverbeds and ravines because the furrowed steppe road has deep pools of water, making some places impassable. Our truck could not have climbed a little hill near the headquarters if we had not pushed it after throwing a few shovels of dry earth under the wheels. Our group of ten rode in the back of the truck. Those first in line held on to the driver's cab, with the others behind clinging to their shoulders. All of a sudden the truck jerked and Mrs. Dobrowolska, who was holding on to me, threw me against the cab, badly bruising my forehead just above the eye. I had a plum-sized blue lump, which is starting to fade away, but the whole area around my eye is still black. Despite all this, on Wednesday I went to work. We received there our provisions of 2 lbs. of bread and a pint of milk. The milk was sour and gave me a severe case of diarrhea. Even today, after a strict diet of tea and Inozemtsov's drops [a herbal remedy], I am still suffering. On top of all this, I strained my knee by hard work and now walking gives me a lot of pain. Therefore, I keep busy doing some washing and repairing my badly faded brown summer skirt.

Mrs. Szkudlapska seized the opportunity of my being home and both yesterday and today went to Rudnik. Yesterday there was no bread and she was not able to find a buyer for the trousers. However, she managed to procure a pair of canvas slippers with rubber soles for 12 rubles and some sausage for 16 rubles.

On July 1st I had a pleasant surprise. Finally the missing 100 rubles from Janek [Jan Baum] were delivered and in addition Hania sent 50 rubles. She is in Szczeploty as our ambassador. She may also send some food. It happened that when I was sleeping: a boy, sent by the postal clerk, knocked and asked me to come over to collect some money. The postal clerk lives in the same building, so I threw a coat over my sleeping gown, slipped into Mrs. Szkudlapska's slippers and went. In their quarters, lit by a lamp standing on the floor, his wife was chopping up a chunk of meat. After a long questioning as to why I do not have a passport or any other documents to identify myself, I signed the money order on the floor and the 150 rubles are mine. At present I have 225 rubles, which may be enough to survive ‘til the end of September. Yesterday I received a letter from Maryna Poziombko [née Ptasnik, her husband's niece, deported from Polesie where she was a teacher] dated April 28, 1940. On April 13, she was deported with her two small children, 4-year-old Jerzy and 1-year-old Dzidek, to Beloraisk in northern Kazakhstan, in the Chkalov region of Petropavlosk district. Staszek [her younger brother] had been interned there [in a POW camp during World War I]. Maryna writes about a number of pasiolki [settlements], established some four years ago, which are at present populated almost exclusively by Poles deported as Russian citizens before 1918, or taken prisoner during the Soviet-Polish war in 1919-1920, or deported from territories which became Soviet after the October Revolution. They hear Polish spoken all around them. She lives off selling things she brought with her. In expectation of deportion, she had gathered and packed whatever she thought was of any value. Her husband, who was arrested on March 21, 1940, is still being kept in Stolin. The landlord [of the house where they previously lived] is selling all their property that was hidden from the official listing and keeps sending money. She has a nasty flu but still has to do all the work with her children around.

Three [women] teachers with small boys from Dawigrad are with her. She got my address from Mieczek. I only received one card from him. Are they afraid to write to deportees? Mrs. Radomska received a letter from her father, Dr. Thulia, from Janow signed "Prawdzic," an assumed name. He writes that no more people have been deported. They expect good crops thanks to an abundance of rain. The Russkies are gathering taxes in dengi [money], livestock and food. The fields have been seeded. Farmers' property is not been confiscated. Since yesterday poor Mrs. Radomska has been sick.

Our administration has ordered us to spend nights with the work gang in the steppe because so much time has been wasted transporting us and we have been showing up for work late. Today the 60-year-old Mrs. Zielinska, Mrs. Ujwaryowa, the Ciesielskis, Genia, Janka and Tadzio left for work. They will probably sleep there.

Today Mrs. Szkudlapska brought only a little bread. . . The Russkies are amassing troops on the Polish border and boast about occupying Bessarabia and Greece.

Monday, July 8, 1940

The anniversary of Bronek's funeral [Bronislaw Popiel, her sister Winia's late husband]. Two years have passed and how lucky that he did not live to see these changes. On Saturday I went with a work gang weeding fields of wheat. It was easy work that we completed in a short time. Getting to work is so hard and unpleasant. Maybe it's better that the work gang was ordered to sleep in the fresh air of the steppe in truck trailers or dugout earthen huts. Late in the afternoon, when we reached the main road, where the trucks drop us off and pick us up, we were caught by a mighty wind with thunder and pouring rain. We were almost blown away in the powerful gusts. Soaked through, we were picked up by a passing truck. After some 2 miles it got stuck in the mud. Mrs. Zielinska, Ujwaryowa and Genia decided to go on foot, but Janka, Ada and I stayed behind. After two fruitless attempts to get the truck moving, we started back home on foot through mud and puddles. Layers of clay kept sticking to the soles of my precious shoes that once belonged to Mieczek. From time to time I scraped them off. How lucky I felt when another truck picked us up a mile and a half from the farm and brought us home. On Saturday I received 50 rubles from Maria Peplowska [her cousin]. Writing back I asked for two thick cotton shirts, a sweater and a pair of warm stockings if anything was still left after the death of her mother and my aunt [her mother's sister].

I traded my elegant shoes for a pair of valonki [felt boots], 2 lbs. butter and 10 eggs. If I have to live here through winter, I must have warm shoes.

[Note added later on top of page] Later I realized the 50 rubles had not come from Maria Peplowska, as they had already left for Krakow. It had been sent by Stefania Matuszewska, her boarder and teacher friend from the school where they had both taught.

Tuesday, July 9, 1940

Yesterday Dr. Podhojecka came from Rudnik and issued me a posvidka [sick-leave note] stating that I'm not capable of working until July 15. Also she gave me pills called salol. Mrs. Dobrowolska told me how to make a special medication that helps even against dysentery. Mix whipped egg whites with chilled boiled water; it should be drunk once a day. Today I'm happy I feel better.

Last night the bedbugs were so nasty and troublesome that at 1 a.m. I gathered my blanket and pillow, put on my coat and went to the haystack hoping to get some sleep. The night was still and warm so I slept well. Daybreak was sunny.

When poor Mrs. Radomska heard about it she was ready to join me at the haystack for the next night. Her sister brought her to our place before noon, but an hour later I had to take her back home because she felt sick and wanted to lie down. Shortly after, she was seized with excruciating pains. Her liver is enlarged by almost two inches and although a strict diet is necessary, our living conditions preclude it. We have no choice but to eat this heavy, sour and often half-baked bread. It is very difficult to get butter and groats. For a few days I have lived only on tea or coffee with bread. Feeling much better, I tried to eat dumplings made of dark, moldy-tasting flour, cooked in water with whipped-in egg yolks. Ada lent me some barley, which made my dinner and will still be good for tonight's supper.

Wednesday, July 10, 1940

The days are very hot. Although my stomach feels much better, I have no desire to join the work gang before my posvidka [sick leave note] expires. I have lost a lot of weight and look as thin as a rail.

[Note on the top of page] I have definitely been helped by the cooked pike I bought from Kolia Tatarenko, an avid fisherman, a good-hearted teenager but a great rascal.

Sunday, July 14, 1940

Yesterday I received a card from Mieczek dated July 1. He informs me that since April 14 he has been staying at the Baums. Marysia [Bladye, her niece] brought him there. She is with Wojciech Schmidt on Zielona Street. It surprised me that Wojciech has moved from Warsaw to Lwów. Jaska [Popiel, a teenage relative] wanted to be reunited with her mother in Torun, but the woman from Torun [on a visit to Lwow], who was going to take her back to Torun was deported by the Soviets, so the entire plan collapsed. My son asked if I received a parcel and cards. I have received only two cards from him.

On July 11 I had a surprise: I got 60 rubles from Hania and 35 from Mrs. Niemczewska, so I now have 350 rubles and will be able to lend money to the Szkudlapskis who have used up all their savings.

On July 12 and 13, I went to work weeding a field of barley, which is rather poor, heavily mixed with oats. We spent the night in the truck trailers. At 2 p.m. a strong wind started to blow and it got cold.

Monday, July 20, 1940: at the Work Gang

On Monday and Tuesday of last week we did not work much waiting for the agronomist to arrive and assign new jobs. Now more intensive work has begun: we are working very hard from morning to evening preparing a few thousands square meters of thrashing-ground for the grain.

Friday, July 26, 1940: at the Work Gang

It was a good week, though on Monday it came to a clash with the upravlaiushchii [chairman]. On a scorching hot afternoon, when I was resting in the shade of the sowing machine, Tatarenko appeared and ordered me immediately to work. I told him that we had already worked 5 hours and there was enough time to put in the remaining 3 hours before the evening. "You will be working not 8 but 16 hours during the khliboborka [harvest]!" In extreme exasperation I started to pound the ground with my fists, screaming: "I refuse to work 16 hours!" This incident made a bad impression on the brigadir [work brigade leader], who keeps nagging me for not working hard enough.

A card from Mieczek dated July 13 and 100 rubles from the Janeks [the Baum family] gave me great comfort. Altogether I have received 300 rubles from them. There is also a parcel from them mailed on June 6--one and a half month for delivery. Probably another parcel from Hania is waiting for me at the post office. I will have to wait patiently until Sunday when I return home to open the parcels.

Luckily, two weeks have gone by since I started working with the work gang and I have stayed healthy. Others are not so lucky. Mrs. Ujwaryowa has been sick for two weeks, her brother Mieczek spent a week and a half at home with the flu and boils on the sole of his foot. Alfred has been sick since July 7. Even the indestructible Mrs. Zielinska has been taken home with high fever and a stomach pain.

Our food provisions are simple but substantial at this time: 2 lbs. bread and one liter of soup all at one time daily. It will help me to regain my lost weight, which is now slightly under a hundred pounds. I wonder how Winia looks. Since the beginning of the war she lost so much weight. She even complained of some internal pains and was afraid of cancer. Mieczek wrote that Janek [Baum] submitted 75 rubles--this was the limit allowed--to the prison authorities for Winia. Next time the Baums will try to send her a parcel with clothing that she asked for through some woman. In the meantime Mrs. Niemczewska wrote in a letter dated July 1 that Winia has been looking for help in treating a "family illness." [This is how Marys Bladye, in a letter to his wife, referred to the deportation to Siberia where Zofia's brother Stanislaw also perished.] The next line in the letter informs me that she is up and walking around although she still cannot write, but it does not matter, "Auf Wiedersehen!"

I was full of hope that Winia had already been freed from prison. However, Mieczek's card of July 13 shattered these hopes. One good thing is that she is still in the country. She received some clothing and money from Hania. Mieczek writes that he is left alone in Lwów because Marysia left with Wojciech Schmidt for Warsaw on June 4. She had already confirmed by telegram their successful arrival in Warsaw. [Maria Bladye crossed illegally the heavily guarded Russian-German demarcation line to the German-occupied part of Poland. She was led by Franciszek Jerzy Karpinski, her future second husband.] I wonder if she will be settling down there permanently and getting a job? There is no news from Marys [Bladye]. No correspondence gets to or from POWs or those arrested. Everyone has someone among them.

At present we are preparing a haroshii tok [a good mud threshing floor] for storing grain. It requires raking, leveling the ground, watering, covering with straw and treading down with a mowing machine which runs back and forth making the surface hard. Finally, when it was ready, it was swept clean and prepared for piling grain in large mounds like potatoes back home. Tractors and harvesters break down all the time and as a result the progress of work is painfully slow. The ominous black clouds started to move in from the west, pushed quickly by a powerful wind blowing dust. I thought those piles of grain would be flooded by a deluge like those we were twice caught in when we were poisoning gophers, but it all ended with a dry and powerful sand storm.

For the last three nights some of us have slept on and others under the wagons loaded with hay. With the work gang are Mrs. Orlowska and Mrs. Halaczowa from the Second Farm at Sarmorsa; Borys Ciuk, son of a judge from Jaworów and a first grade high school student, a very nice, well brought up Ukrainian boy; and two Altschillers, Jewish men, with their brother-in-law Nachtigal, also from Jaworów.

[Here the signature of a Kazakh appears]

Saturday, July 27, 1940

Thanks to the fact that almost every day someone goes back to the farm (Mrs. Ciesielska to visit her child, or the girls to bring news, provisions and mail), today I received a card from Hania. In the card sent July 15, she informs me that all the meadows have been harvested and she has received her share. Her open varicose veins have healed, so she is able to work. She misses all of us very much, complaining about how bad people are and blames them for everything tragic that has happened. She writes that Mr. Jaworski has repaid an old debt of 30 rubles and Vasyl Tymchyna, our long time coach driver, added 20 rubles to be sent to me. The coach driver's wife, Hanunia, supplied sugar and a side bacon for the parcel. The first parcel was sent June 18 with the second following on July 1. Rumor has it that one parcel is already waiting for me in Sarsai. How can I allow myself to think that people are evil?

Wednesday, July 31, 1940: at the First Work Gang

On Monday everything started well. Just before we left I collected the parcel from Hania in perfect shape. 4 lbs. sugar, 4 lbs. flour, buckwheat, pasta, dry rolls, and more than 2 lbs. bacon that was a bit old but good to have. Our dear Hania! Also, the parcel from the Janeks [the Baums] was waiting for me: more sugar, kasha, chai [tea], candies, a small bucket of lard, wheat meal, and corn meal--everything packed in solid linen sacks. I'm using one of them to wrap and carry my bread. The little bucket serves me as an eating dish. The high quality canvas wrapping, which I washed, will serve to carry my bedding. In the evening the postman brought me a bumazhka [piece of paper] to sign for a third parcel which was already delivered and is waiting for me at the Szkudlapskis. I will collect and unwrap it on Sunday.

Thursday, August 1, 1940

On Monday I received a letter from my dear Mieczek who writes often and about everything. How wonderful it is to have one's own good child! Unfortunately, the news is bad. On July 7 he went [with Jan Baum] to Kazimierzowska Street [the infamous Lwów Brigidki Prison] to hand in a parcel with clothing and money for Winia. It was rejected without any information. So, it means that she has been transferred to another prison or deported to Soviet Russia. . . .

Filip came to see him in Lwów and brought a suitcase from Tymczyna. Lincia and Genia [Alina Popiel and Eugenia Kulerska, relatives] are with Uncle Zubrzycki in Kobylniki near Warsaw.

Stefan's family [Stefan and Irena Kamienski, relatives from Lwów] have a lot to worry about. Their old mother is sick and in severe pain; Ewa, their 3-year-old daughter, came down with high fever and was unconscious with suspected typhoid fever. . .

One day recently a card came from Vasyl Tymczyna who visited Mieczek in Lwów. He described Mieczek as "very depressed." When visiting Janów he run into Stefan Kam who has a job there. Dealing with Kam is difficult as he is like a weasel and impossible to know.

Monday, August 5, 1940: at the First Work Gang

Saturday evening I went back to the farm and immediately upon arrival, the postman welcomed me with a money order for 200 rubles from Janek. They sold Marysia's furniture for 2,250 rubles; a very low price! Now they will gradually be sending money to me. Already they have supplied me with 500 rubles. This will be enough to survive the winter.

My daily expenses here are small: 90 kopecks for 2 lbs. bread, sometimes eggs and rarely a needless extravagance like buying perfumes for 4.65 rubles from the prikazhchik [clerk].

Finally I unpacked Hania's second parcel containing a heavy cotton dress, which will be good for work, a kerchief to cover my head, and food. I am indulging myself by eating sugar from this parcel, hoping to strengthen my body.

Tuesday, August 6, 1940

This is the birthday of our late father [Kajetan Malachowski]. Mother Wilczkiewiczowa arrived today bringing good news which the driver, a Russian Communist, shared with her during the trip. Supposedly the Germans are asking for peace, but England does not want to negotiate until Germany is defeated. Italy has surrendered [later added by her: Not true!]. The Germans want to withdraw from Poland but "Batko" Stalin is not willing to return what he got in such an easy way. It is rumored that the German fleet is destroyed.

Saturday, August 10, 1940: at the Work Gang Today Genia brought rumors from the farm that America is beating the Germans. Yesterday we heard that Hamburg suffered such a heavy bombing that it amounted to slaughter. German women hung out white flags while the men trampled on Nazi swastikas. Others say that England is dropping 1000 bombs a day over Germany. The Pope traveled to America, which supposedly has declared war on Germany. I will not believe all these rumors until Mieczek confirms them.

Last Thursday Mrs. Szkudlapska brought a letter from him dated July 20. He feels very depressed, fearing deportation. He tells me that he wrote to Hania asking her for his warm fur coat, heavy socks and earmuffs.

Immediately I replied to the letter and wrote another to Professor Bujak [historian, Professor at the Jagiellonian University in Kraków and Jan Kazimierz University in Lwów/Lviv, and a lifelong friend of her husband, Dr. Jan Ptasnik] asking him to shelter my son temporarily and then send him to the German-occupied part, possibly to the Ptasnik family near Kraków, or the Dabrowskis in Jaroslaw, or to Mrs. Brodowiczowa. . .

Tuesday, August 13, 1940

I'm sitting at the roadside waiting for a truck heading for the farm. At least half an hour has passed and nothing has appeared on the horizon.

Every morning for the last few days I have felt strong pain in my back. I tried, however, to force myself and worked until evening. Today the pain became unbearable and the overseer excused me from work for a couple of days.

Thursday, August 14, 1940: First Farm

Yesterday I felt unwell, aching all over and had difficulty getting up. Today, after Mrs. Szkudlapska gave me massages in the morning and afternoon, the pain eased. I wish I could stay back here for some time. Now the work gang is winnowing grain from morning till evening which pays very little: 33 kopecks per day. We are being told that we are not fulfilling "the norm." For dinner, supper and half liter of milk we are charged 1.80-2.20 rubles daily. Our daily pay is not enough to cover this. Some people from our farm are resettled to Sarmorsa where milk and eggs are difficult to come by, especially when so many people arrive at the same time. Mrs. Wilczkiewiczowa was moved on July 13, Mrs. Radomska and Mrs. Dobrowolska yesterday. Today is Mrs. Brewczynska's turn and nobody cares that her eight-year-old daughter has been suffering from diarrhea for the last few days. Tomorrow Mrs. Ciesielska will be going with her sick mother and her little daughter Krzysia who has whooping cough and diarrhea. Maybe we can stay here for now and then spend the winter in Sarsai where Józef could get work in the blacksmith's shop. I still hope that things will change for the better. On August 13 Mieczek's letter of August 3 arrived. He writes that everybody expects great changes. Hitler is like a second Napoleon; history may be repeating itself.

Mr. Argasinski from Niemirow wrote to Józef that liberation is near. They expect the collapse of Germany, which is being beaten by Britain both at sea and in the air. Italy is waiting for the outcome.

Sunday, August 18, 1940: 22nd anniversary of Marysia's death

Again I'm hit by diarrhea, so once more to a diet of egg whites whipped and added to chilled boiled water. The upravliaiushchii [chairman] is on my back and reminds me that "nado rabotat!" [you have to work!] Yesterday, when we were already in bed, a tractor pulled in a trailer full of grain and we were ordered to unload the sacks.

On Friday we faced a big problem with the accountant who arrived drunk in our room and demanded more vodka. I bought a half liter and Mrs. Szkudlapska started to treat him to it. With the greatest difficulty we somehow got rid of him. He told us that the NKVD instructs them not to talk or take anything to eat from Poles fearing the danger of being poisoned. Vodka was good enough for him though! In the afternoon Mrs. Szkudlapska left for the work gang to visit with her children. I relaxed in total solitude writing letters to Mrs. Strusiewiczowa [a friend from Wierzbiany], Mieczek and Hania. In her last letter Hania shared bad news with me. Mr. Kuspys has been arrested and his wife resettled and to add to the disasters all her things disappeared. She was left only with the clothes on her back. A baby was born to the Mirans [farmers from Szczeploty]. Hania complains about people who use things that were given to them for safekeeping. Even Mr. Jaworski [manager of the mill in Szczeploty] wears Marys's windbreaker, but to make up for it, he took with him some flour and 100 rubles to Mieczek when traveling to Lwow on business. Genia Brewczynska just arrived with news from a driver who told her that since August 8 all mail exchange between the Soviet Union and western Ukraine has been suspended. Only mail posted before August 8 will reach its destination. It simply means that something is happening. There was also talk at the work gang that because the rabochie [workers] are receiving money and food from their families and friends, they do not care about work. I have suspected that such an excuse to stop money and food could face us all.

Tuesday, August 20, 1940

Bedbugs keep multiplying at a frightening rate. Last night after an endless struggle and feeling almost eaten alive, I threw on my coat, grabbed a pillow, blanket and sheet, and in the light of the full moon walked to the straw stack and there I finally fell asleep . . . Who would have thought that a widow of a university professor. . . would be forced to climb a stack of straw during the night to get a few hours of sleep.

(continued in the next issue)

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The Sarmatian Review
Last updated 9/22/02