Poland’s Eastern Borderlands before 1939
I finished almost five forms of a Polish primary school. The school was a kilometre and a half from out village of Rybczany, in Kurty. The teacher was from Wołkowysk. It was in 1939. We went on a trip, we made war memorials. We went on a trip: Wilno (Lithuanian: Vilnius), Warsaw, Krakow, Chorzów, Katowice. They kept us a moth-and-a-half with different families there. I came back home, I had friends and… war.
Marian Bumblis
Our childhood was difficult. There was not enough land, maybe a hectare. But there was peace, there was no violent crime. The house was very old, such a wooden cottage. There was no church, there were such small chapels. The priest was coming. When I was 13-14 I had to work. As a hired hand. There was skin to be made, soaked – for sheepskin coats. Dirty job, but you had to live.
Piotr Ciereszko
Our mummy could do everything in the village. She assisted in the birth of babies in the village. She delivered some two, three hundred babies. And only one mother died, because the baby was still. When the Germans were going away and the Soviets were coming...or perhaps when the Soviets were going away and the planes were coming in, that woman, she jumped into the basement, and it all came off. She was quite a while there, maybe two or three days. When she felt bad, they came running to our mummy. Mummy says: let’s pull her on some cart, so that she could give birth here at home. And she gave birth to the baby at our home and then she died. An infection set in. When our Mummy delivered a baby, she would be coming for some six months when the baby got ill. When there was a problem with its tummy and the baby was crying and could not sleep, our mummy would go, undress the baby naked, put on her arm and spank it on the backside. Spank! – It will get well, don’t worry! Brew some camomile, let it rinse out the stomach.” And they baby sleeps! And is healthy. She was uneducated. Not a single form finished, but she read a lot of books! She was going to such rich people and bringing books. Sometimes she brought eight kilo of books. And she had time to read them! And then she talked about it. She had both pious and lewd books from different masters. She could tell everything she had read. When they sometimes gathered at different houses for the rosary, because there was such a rosary group, she would tell something wise about that book... Women liked her. Then, when somebody had erysipelas, when some sore appeared on a leg or a hand or wherever, she would burn it with flax. They also came to her when some blue spots developed and infection set in. She went to the barn, pulled ears from the rye and made about six bunches. She gathered them, tied up with a fine thread and put away. Then the ill man would come, take the ears. Mum would put a bowl on the stool and the other bowl under the aching spot. And she poured water over those ears. One bunch after another, she went through them and poured water. And the blue spot would heal and go away. The priests say that she was some witch. But for me there was prayer, not a curse, but prayer. She healed people. For those who took fright she also cast spells to cure them. In a bread stove there is a hearth cover. She would take that cover, put on the stool, take timber ash and spill small piles of ash on the four corners and in the middle. She would do that several times. She took the ash from the bow and spilled it, and again. She put the bowl next to that ash on that cover. She dipped her small finger in water and put it into that ash. She lifts the top of the sick person, and makes a cross on the chest and back. She crosses herself and makes those crosses. Then she takes that bowl with water, washes the sick person’s body and then spills the ash from that cover into the bowl. But everything away from her. And then she takes a piece of cloth, pours the water out into that cloth and squeezes it, so that a dry ball is made. Then she breaks that ball and looks against the light. And says: come once again. It was called bathing. You had to come after lunch. And I asked what my mummy could see when she broke that ball on that starch. And she would say – hairs, when there are hairs it means it is not finished. But she did not give anything away to us: either the flax or those ears or bathing. She did not say anything how to do it. Even when she was already ill and in bed we told her – tell us what it is, how to do it. And she said she would tell us later. And she died and did not say anything.
Stefan Jodkowski
[Recollection of Józef Piłsudski — Dzierkowszczyna, 1930s] I remember Piłsudski, I do, Piłsudski was spoken about. Well, what could you say? The greatest… How could you say? God! That’s how we were told about Piłsudski in my childhood. The teacher put us in a line and we were going to church, and there was a mass at the church, and that mass was for Piłsudski. Piłsudski’s portrait was hanging on a wall at the school.
Helena Kisielowa
[Siret River in Chortkiv] Once I went with the horses to let them drink in the Siret River. There is a road down to the Siret, the water was high there. Horses were bathing, but I didn’t bathe, at our place in Perechody there was no water and I don’t know how to bathe. I waded waist-deep into the river, but later on I was knocked over, flooded and I was already drowning. I was drowning twice when I was small but they saved me.
Włodzimierz Maniowski
The school was near the castle, made of bricks, not so big. It is still there. Different mates from the neighbourhood, from Wygnanka, Przechody, Perechody. Like boys, fighting with one another on their way back home from the school. There was such a discipline. If any countrywomen were walking, the child should tell them: Praise the Lord. If it didn’t, they told the mother and the mother gave such a hiding at home that next time, whether you know her or don’t, you must cross yourself or you’ll be whipped. We learned German, Ukrainian. The teachers were Polish. Headmaster Kotwicz, Jurewicz was a great teacher; she lived nearby, maybe 200 metres from the school. She had her house under the hill, she didn’t have even a bit of a plot, perhaps only for flowers, but she got her salary from the school and she was rather well-off. He who had a good job under Poland, in an office, on the railway, could have made enough money in a month to buy three cows. Before the war a cow cost some 80 zlotys ands he got more than 200 zlotys.
Włodzimierz Maniowski
How was my childhood? Lousy. We lived off the land, and the land was small. Nothing good. My mother died when we were small, my father got married. There were many children and there were no jobs. You had to make money, graze cows. For a man who lived a dignified life. Life was tough. People worked on the land, they busied themselves with the house and also went to Latvia for money for the whole summer. They got documents and left for farmers [in Latvia]. Because the intensity of people was small there and [there was a lot of] land, even 300 hectares each. They needed people. My father used to go there, too. He left everything behind leaving in April and coming back right before winter. He went there for three years. I wasn’t much at school; there was no time to go to school. You had to earn your daily bread. The school was far away 4.5 kilometres, in Belmonty.
Julian Masłowski
My father was a Greek Catholic. And my mother was Polish, Roman Catholic. My father’s name was Iwan, but they called him Janek, nobody called him Iwan. He was always called Janek. We went to the Greek Catholic Church. But we also went to the Roman Catholic Church. Father Urbański was a religion teacher and father Kasperowski was a parish priest. There was such a struggle of sorts. One Sunday they took me to the Roman Catholic Church, the other to the Uniate Church. But I do not care, there is one God in the world, there are no ten gods. In my class at school there were three Ukrainians, three Polish girls and 26 Jewish girls. I was the oldest sibling, with five brothers behind. In 1940, my mother went to hospital to give birth to another child, and I said: — Mum, if it is a boy, don’t come back home! I delivered an ultimatum. I took care of those kids. With nappies, and I was making all their clothes. They said you had to have seven professions under communism — I probably have more than seven.
Barbara Medyńska-Michajłow
dotyczy także: Kościół i życie religijne przed 1990 rokiem,
[Zaleszczyki] Before the war there were many summer holidaymakers in Zaleszczyki, they came from abroad. There were many boarding houses in Zaleszczyki. “Bajka” on the street I used to go to my cousin. “Świt” at the Drozdowskis’, Villa “Róża”. Usually rich holidaymakers came. And it was so hot there! Sixty degrees centigrade in the sun. On a shaded beach you could boil eggs in the sand. Piłsudski came to us in 1932. He was greeted ceremonially. He was an old grey man… It looked very ceremonially. A torchlight procession in the evening, a parade during the day. He took the salute. He came by train. He was taking the salute from us, from the kids, from our school. Summer holidaymakers usually came by train. There were not as many cars as there are now. But the smell of petrol was so nice that we were running after those machines, the cars, and sniffed it like narcotics. It smelled nice. There were cabs. There were many cabmen, horse-drawn cabs. Zaleszczyki ranked second in the world among summer resorts, they said it was Polish Meran.
Barbara Medyńska-Michajłow