POLAND AFTER THE WAR
In May, 1946, we were told that transport was ready for those who wanted to go back to Poland. Ours was an exceptionally big transport. Zygmunt was asked to take charge, but he declined. We travelled by cattle trucks. We travelled for more than a week. We were all happy but also a bit scared and worried, thinking about what would happen to us after we crossed the border. I don’t remember being hungry so we were fed, probably by UNNRA or perhaps the Allied forces. All day long we were singing Polish folk songs. At the border everyone was given zloty (Polish currency) as none of us had any. We were asked where each of us would like to go, and then given free tickets.
Zygmunt decided not to go to Warsaw as it was very ruined, and so we went to Radom where Zygmunt had many relatives, as usual. The travel through Poland towards Radom made me extremely happy. My reason told me that Poland was not as beautiful as say, Switzerland, but to me it was beautiful. This was our countryside, our forests, our hillocks, our meadows, our huts with thatched roofs.
We were home, we were in Poland! Zygmunt’s cousin, Julek, and his wife, Kasia, and their son, little Julek, welcomed us and made us feel at home. Kasia immediately made us a bath as we were smelly after the long journey without a proper wash. There were many uncles and aunts and, of course, plenty of friends – even some of my personal friends from Lithuania. Among them was Zosia whose experience was rather unusual. She was from Lithuania, the daughter of a well-to-do farmer. She left Kaunas with a suitcase and a sewing machine and was deported to the far east in Russia. (Her brothers were deported too). She arrived in Radom with trunks, bundles and crates.
She was an exceptionally industrious young female. Not only did she manage to survive when many people died in her transport, but she was even able to amass wealth, and all thanks to her sewing machine. Those four years were not easy for her – she now had arthritis and rheumatism – but she had survived and was happy and comparatively rich. Her father was repatriated from Lithuania and already had a nice farm and good outbuildings in the western part of Poland. After the end of the war in 1945, Poland was shifted from the East to the West. East from the River Bug Poland was proclaimed as belonging to the Soviet Union but Poland was recompensed by land in the West of Poland which had been taken from Germany and extended down to the Rivers Oder and Nissa.
Polish citizens and Poles from Lithuania who opted to repatriate to the new Poland could not receive an equivalent in property of the property left in the East. People and land were moved around just like on a chequer board. Once it had been from the West to the East, now it was from the East to the West. Should we have stayed in Poland, we would have received a farm and a two-storey villa on a big block with a view. The old farm was only 12 km away from the previous capital city of Lithuania, Kaunas, and the villa was in the new capital city, Vilnius. All this “wealth” was now represented by a piece of official paper stating that we were entitled to properties equal to the ones left in the East. By now it had only a funny historical value.
We were able to get in touch with our families and therefore we left Radom and went to Warsaw. In Warsaw was the new government and many of Zygmunt’s friends and we were told by Kasia that her relative, Zenon Domalewski, whom I also knew from before the war, even had a spare room. To have a spare room in Warsaw was at that stage an exceptional luxury as the town was bombed and burned out during the war. Zenon accepted us happily but he had changed a lot during those war years. He was aged and depressed. He had lost his beautiful violin which he loved very much. The lift was burned out; part of the house was destroyed; only the bed bugs thrived as never before.
The first person whom Zygmunt went to see was his friend, Stefan J. who was now Minister of Shipping and Foreign Trade. We had no appointment and his secretary gave us a doubtful look when Zygmunt told her that it was a personal matter and that they were friends. Luckily, just at that moment, Stefan came out of his room and welcomed us in a very friendly manner and took us into his room. He told us that both our families were alive and healthy, and the children too. He had received a letter a few day ago asking to find them accommodation as they were coming to Poland. They were all alive and even healthy!
I was incoherent with happiness. After two years of uncertainty, at last we knew that they were alive and that soon – really soon – we would see them. Stefan was late for a conference and asked Zygmunt to come tomorrow or as soon as he could, so we left him and went to look for more of Zygmunt’s friends. We went to Jan and Guga and they greeted Zygmunt as one would a brother. It was a wonderful feeling to be amongst friends, to be with people who feel and think the same way.
The talked and talked the whole night through. There was so much to catch up with. Who was alive or who had died, when and how, who is where and who was doing what during all those long years. We all had a laugh as so many of their group were now in ministerial positions and they even joked saying that the “Wilnaers are now ruling Poland”. We stayed there for a few days. We not only met Zygmunt’s friends, but also Poles from Lithuania. I was so happy to see Czeslaw who had also survived. He was even married and had a whole flat in Gdynia just for the two of them, and invited us to come and stay with them, but only I went as Zygmunt was already working. Stefan had asked him to start work in the Ministry as soon as he could.
One day Zygmunt told me that Stefan had asked him to take a job as a “Conseiller Commercial” in Switzerland and, in addition, to be the chief of the trading commission. I was aghast. We had just come to Poland, and to leave it now? No, definitely NO! I was not going. I wanted to stay here, in Poland! Zygmunt started to explain:
Zygmunt told me that Stefan was reasonable and agreed to wait until Zygmunt had found accommodation for the two families and, until they were settled in, Zygmunt could stay in Poland. Later on the parents might visit us or I could stay in Poland as long as I wanted. I did not argue. I was determined not to leave Poland before I had my children. Everything else did not matter to me.
I wanted my children.
Minister Wolski and Guga were to go in a few days’ time to Wilna in order to supervise the repatriation of Poles. Guga wanted Zygmunt’s help and Minister Wolski though it a good idea. He arranged with Stefan that Zygmunt would be on loan for the time being from Stefan’s ministry to Wolski and Guga and Zygmunt would fly out to Wilna in a two-seater plane as soon as possible. Stefan agreed. Zygmunt told me to go to Czeslaw and his wife and he flew away, now being an inspector for repatriation. Czeslaw’s flat was very nice with nice big “Gdansk” furniture, but I did not take to his wife. She was young and pretty, but she used to talk about herself in the third person, and I did not like the way in which Czeslaw had changed. He would have changed anyway but I thought it was her influence. I became more of a rebel and he became more of a conformist.
The following incident was a fair indication of our disagreements: It was a Saturday evening and I asked Czes and Tonia what time they would be going to church on Sunday. There were a few seconds of silence and then Tonia told me:
Next morning I dressed myself conspicuously in bright colours and I remember being disappointed that no-body took any notice of me. There was no riot, not the slightest interest from churchgoers; the church was not full. Although it was a long time since I had attended Mass, I still knew my prayers and did everything as it should be done. I calmed down and started thinking: Why did I go to church, why was I so rude to Czes and Tonia? I was certain that I did not go to church because I was a Catholic. I did not know who I was by now but I felt very strongly about freedom, especially about freedom to believe. No government should hinder anyone who wants to worship, no believer should hide his feelings for a better meal ticket. I really felt very strongly about it.
When I arrived back we both felt a bit uncomfortable, but our friendship survived. I spent weeks waiting for Zygmunt. He did not even ring or write and then one day he arrived, unannounced. He had seen everyone. The children were beautiful. Jurek was a tall boy for his age and Roman was a very gentle little fellow. Everyone was healthy and well. Both children addressed him as Mr Kruszewski! Jurek was a spoiled brat with bad manners and very rude, and one evening Zygmunt gave him a real hiding. When I heard about this I nearly fainted, thinking that now everything was lost, but not to worry, next morning Jurek called Zygmunt “Daddy” and Roman started to call him “Daddy” too. We should hurry and find them somewhere to live as they would be coming very soon.
We must find two separate houses as the in-laws were not on good terms and there was a lot of friction between them. They would need a fair amount of space so Warsaw would be out. They were coming. Zygmunt’s mother and Aunt Jadzia, with Jurek, my parents with Roman, Pan Wladyslaw, Ksenia and, in addition, a goat, a cow, a pig, my piano and plenty of furniture for both houses. After rushing around like maniacs, we found them all accommodation in a small township, Radosc, near Warsaw. I missed them at the station and met only Jadzia and the cow. All others went by another route and when I arrived home, they were all sitting around a table, smiling happily. For the first few minutes there was total confusion. Everyone talked without saying anything; the children were not there, they were playing in the yard.
Jurek, I recognized immediately. He was just as beautiful as before only much taller. I wanted to grab him and hug him but knew that I should not to this so I just patted his head and felt like choking. I could not even speak. I started looking for Roman but could not find him. All the children were much too big. One boy look up, stared at my mother and I knew that he was Roman. The same eyes, the same look, but what a big boy. Mother called him and he came running.
I just looked at my children. I did not touch Roman. I was afraid of losing my self-control, was afraid that I might grab the children and hug them and start crying. I was glad when the landlady called me and I ran away from the children. I was a lot calmer when I came back to them and Roman told Mother that it was good that the “nice lady” had come back.
I took each by the hand and we went home. We decided that the children would be with us right from this moment on. I bathed them, put them to bed, each in his cot/bed in the room with us. They did not protest; they were laughing and telling stories. It was the best night since we had parted.
The relationship between my parents and Zygmunt’s mother was bad. They were barely polite. There were petty grievances to start with but they grew out of all proportion. Later on there was also some trouble about a pig, some moonshine and money. I was very cross with my parents, especially with my father. He should have paid not once or twice but as many times if Hela wanted, indefinitely, if need be. Now life would be so much harder for Zygmunt and me. I was rather rude to my parents and Mother began to cry openly. It was late at night when I ran out of abusive words and Father told me to shut up and to listen to him. He would try to be brief. He admitted that he did not like Hela or her sister. He would have paid indefinitely if it would achieve peace for them and us, but he was certain that it was impossible.
The last few days were the worst as Hela was abusing Mother, calling her really bad names in public. Should I doubt Father? Pan Wladyslaw would confirm it as he was there. I interrupted Father. I did not want to listen but he told me that he had listened to me and now I had to listen to him. What he had to say was important for all of us.
I was very distressed but unable to repeat this conversation to Zygmunt. I only told him that he was right, the atmosphere between the in-laws was tense. He only laughed and told me that he had already paid his mother some money and would pay as often as she demanded as we now had money, and not to worry. We should find them separate flats. We found a flat not far away and I made it a point to visit her and Jadzia every day and was a lot nicer to them than I was to my parents. I was mainly with the children and did not see much of Zygmunt during the next few weeks. He was in Warsaw till late attending various conferences and at home he read late at night about the new commercial laws, to be ready when in Switzerland.
The Government issued him fabrics for shirts and suits and he received two ties, gloves and an attaché case. When he left from the airport he did not look like a diplomat, rather like a poor tourist going on a cheap holiday. The children and I stayed behind until he was ready to get us over, until he found some rooms for us. We did not mind; it was good to be in Poland with the family.
The ensuing months I did not go anywhere and spent all my time with the boys. Roman was kind and gentle. He would not let me out of his sight; he would sit on the steps of the toilet and wait for me. Even Mother became jealous. Jurek was a problem. He was rude and bad-mannered and disliked Roman. If Roman touched Jurek, Jurek would try to clean this place. He could not stand being touched by Roman. I asked Jurek why he was doing it and the reply was:
I was upset and thought that it would be good for the children if they would be without all grandparents for a while, just with Zygmunt and me. We all knew that Hela (whom we called Bama) loved Jurek and did not like Roman although Roman looked more like Zygmunt than did Jurek. During the last two years my parents had looked after Roman and Bama after Jurek, and all grandparents preferred the grandson in their charge to the other one. It was very pronounced. I remember another conversation with Jurek which upset me too. We were expecting Czeslaw and I was very happy that he was coming. When we were away, the grandparents had baptized the children and Czeslaw was now the godfather of Jurek.
Those and similar talks we had often and I was getting really worried as to whether Jurek could still be straightened out. What caused his attitude, I could not understand. One day I became really frightened. It was a hot summer day with thunder in the air. Jurek went alone to Bama and her sister. Just as I was ready to leave, the thunderstorm broke. Lightning and thunder were non-stop and it was still oppressive. Ten or more minutes passed when I saw, in the lightning, little Jurek running towards our house. He was crying and stammering and was quite beside himself. I could understand that something had happened. He was speaking about Bama and Jadzia killing each other, but he was stammering so badly that I could hardly understand him. I left the children with my parents and ran to Bama’s place. I found them both in vile tempers, accusing each other of something or other, dishevelled, screaming, threatening. It took me a while to calm them down and it was more than an hour before I went home.
Jurek was still very edgy and still stammering. His stammering was for life. That evening I spoke again with my parents. I did not want vague gossip, I wanted facts. What made Bama behave as she did, what happened during the years when we were away? Father was reluctant to talk and he said little. In Father’s opinion, Bama was unreasonable and hard to live with. It started with only petty things, then it was the killing of a pig, then it was some moonshine, some bribes, etc. There were unpleasant scenes.
Father was certain on only one point – I should never live with Bama. They, my parents, also would never live with us; they wanted to be fair. We were lucky; we had all survived and now Father was giving me this advice: If I wanted to bring the children up the way I felt they should be brought up, if I wanted our marriage to survive, I should never live with Bama. I should be polite and nice, but firm. Now, thirty years later, I know that I could have avoided a lot of heartache if I would have had more commonsense.
Now I know that Bama was a sick woman that her menopause came together with the war, with the death of her husband, and other hardships which caused her nervous and mental breakdown. I was too stupid to realize that Father was telling the truth as he knew it (which was part-truth only). I was too brainwashed not to show respect to and honour the mother of my husband. I was plain stupid. I paid the price for that and so did Zygmunt, and even so the children. Our ignorance cost us a heavy price in tears and sleepless nights. I thought that I was doing my duty. I did not recognize mental ill-health and blamed it only on a difficult character.
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