My wartime experiences in 1944 – the pacification
It was June. Three German mechanized infantry units drew into the villages in the Uchanie commune and partly into the neighboring communes. Everybody was saying that the Germans were coming to pacify the Hrubieszów district.
Every day, a small detachment from my village set off for the forest to train. The echo of a newly composed song was everywhere: “From afar the sound of a soldier’s song,/ the troops are coming through./ In the windows blushing girls peek out,/ their little hearts aglow.” When I heard that melody, it seemed as if it foretold some misfortune.
On the third day following their arrival, the Germans went into one village in a truck and took a few of the cows and pigs that they found there. All of our partisans marched into the forest, certain that the Germans wouldn’t come after them. That same day, after dinner, some Germans drove up to the top of one of the hills in a tank and looked through a spyglass in the direction of the forest where the boys from my village were. One brave lad clambered up an oak tree and looked back at them through his own spyglass. The news came in the evening that the Germans were going to come to our village for the pigs and cows. Nobody would have missed a cow or a pig at the time, if only this would bring the whole affair to a peaceful conclusion.
Early in the morning on the fourth day since the Germans had arrived, all the boys from the village went to the forest with their weapons. My father went to the forest for some brushwood for the fence. He came back, put down the wood and sat down to breakfast. Suddenly my mother ran into the house looking terrified and said that she could hear the rumble of tanks and machine gun fire. My father and I sprang to our feet and ran out of the house.
The machine guns were firing nonstop and we could hear the salvos of anti-tank guns, their shells falling into the neighboring forest. The older men fled into the forest. My father hid the military things he had and we hurried across the field to the trees as well. Someone ran out of the forest and shouted that the Germans were going in. We went back home. My father told me to get undressed and pretend to be ill. I left my father outside and went to lie down in bed.
After a while, the tanks started to drive past our home. My heart almost stopped when I looked through the window and saw a line of fearsome Tigers. A cart loaded with clothes and food had been waiting in our barn for several days, ready for us to leave. The Germans broke into the barn and took everything from the cart. Then they started taking the cows and putting the pigs on the tanks. Two Germans burst into the house and rushed me out of bed, not listening to any explanation. I thought that my life was about to end. I wanted to take a morsel of bread at least, but one of the Germans hit me in the shoulder with his bayonet. I left the house thinking that I would be able to run away outside, but it didn’t work.
All the cows in the village were taken and we were ordered to drive them ahead. The Germans organized themselves into a column, with tanks at the front and rear and soldiers securing the flanks. We walked through the whole village and more and more cows and people were driven out to us. The Germans shot the geese, chickens and other small animals at every house. The village was razed and it looked like the Germans were going to burn the barren place to the ground. Tanks were sitting in the fields, firing their cannons into the forest.
We were hounded like animals out of the village and into a field called przemiarki [likely meaning “re-measured”]. It was on a hill from which the whole surrounding area could be seen. I tried to flee several times, but I was almost killed on my last attempt. We saw the tanks going into the forest. We saw [the Germans] driving around the fields looking for people hiding in the crops. Men from other villages were brought in to our group.
After a short stop there, we saw plumes of smoke going up behind the forest. We knew very well that it was the village of Chyżowice that was burning. The fire cut through like a scythe, licking all of the people’s possessions with its flaming tongue. We didn’t look at that horrible spectacle for long. The women were split from us and we were ordered to take the cows and march on. On that day, everybody separated from their families, as it seemed, for ever. There was nobody from my family and I didn’t have anybody to say goodbye to. I felt so sad and so weak that I soon fainted. I was quickly made to recover and we moved out with the cows.
As we walked, I noticed that the Germans were not driving their tanks down the road but through the fields. I realized that they must have been worried about mines on the road. When we reached the neighboring village of Gliniska, the whole crowd stopped. Cattle and people were forced out of Gliniska, just like from our [village]. After a few minutes’ rest, the whole group headed towards Drohiczany. On the square where the Germans rounded us all up there now stands a shrine around which a parade takes place on 15 June every year.
We walked calmly, without noise or shouting. Everyone hung their heads and went absorbed in prayer. We entered Drohiczany. The village of Drohiczany was peaceful, full of dug in cars and tanks. The Germans, laughing, looked out of their windows and ate in peace. I got carried away enough to throw my little, defenseless self at a German, however I didn’t have the courage. A few of the men who knew the village well managed to escape, but the rest of us were pushed onwards with the cows.
When we reached the settlement, we drove the cattle into a nearby barn. The cows started to moo miserably as if they too had a presentiment of something even though they didn’t have human intelligence. We were put into groups of three. On the way back, we turned toward Rozkoszówka. On the way, here and there was talk that our lives were going to end in that scrubland. I tried to escape for the fifth time, but it didn’t work out. From then on, a German stood beside me and watched me until we reached Rozkoszówka.
There, we lay on the grass in the square in front of the school. It was empty all around, there was not a single civilian to be seen walking around anywhere. There were only the Germans watching us on all sides. The sun dipped into the west. Dark clouds raced through the sky, scudding along on a cold wind.
A truck arrived from the direction of Uchanie. I didn’t notice anything at first. The cold shook me as if it was the most freezing chill. I was lightly clothed and, what’s more, barefoot. I saw my uncle and a dozen boys from my village in the truck; they had gone into the forest with their weapons. I was afraid. By now, I was shivering uncontrollably. I couldn’t believe my eyes. I approached the truck and a German hit me so hard that my eyes watered.
The truck was opened and a wounded nurse was brought out; it was said that she was immediately shot outside the village. My uncle and his friends, white as a sheet, were led into a house. The people were crammed into the school, but our group, numbering a few dozen, was taken to the dairy. There was no floor in the dairy, only tiling that was as cold as ice. We were all hungry and tired, and lay down as if we were dead. One of the older men had a loaf of bread which he shared with everyone.
When I put that piece of bread in my mouth, I remembered the warm dinner that my mother always served. I remembered how I always sulked about the food and refused to eat. And now I didn’t even have enough bread. And that was just the first day, what was going to happen later? Oh, mother dearest, how good you were to me. If only I could make it back to you, I would love you forever. At that moment people started to sing a song in the room: “Dear mother”. Regret squeezed my heart so tightly that I started to cry.
Tears in my eyes, my heart breaking, I fell into a deep sleep. I will remember that night for the rest of my life. I lay down on my left side on the cold tiling and slept. In the morning, when the Germans woke us up, I felt as if my whole left side had been cut off. I couldn’t draw any breath into my lungs, my legs were shaking and my vision was getting dark.
They put us in threes again and we set off in the direction of Uchanie. The Germans walked beside us, one next to the other, with bayonets on their rifles. We were frightened in various ways. Some people said that they were going to shoot us in the cemetery, while others consoled those who were very scared however they could. Nobody knew what they were going to do with us. Slowly, we passed by Uchanie, then Jarosławiec, but they just led us on. Some people said we were going to the lagers in Chełm, others frightened us by saying that we were going to be shot in the nearby forest.
We reached the forest and heard shooting up ahead. Everyone froze. Only one person, one of my older friends, encouraged everyone to throw themselves at the Germans who were leading us. Some of the men planned to do it, but there were a lot of people who were afraid. The shooting stopped. As we went by, we found out that it had only been a live ammunition exercise.
We slowly passed a village that I wasn’t familiar with. As we walked, the older men started to faint so much that we needed water. But there was no way to get it because the village was Ukrainian. One man bent down to a puddle. A German stabbed him with his bayonet for that, but not fatally.
We went past that village and through another. There were more cars in that village than I had ever seen in my life. Various thoughts suddenly started to cross my mind. I wasn’t concerned about my life anymore – I just hoped our planes would fly over and crush those cars, even if that meant that I would be obliterated along with them.
We were led into a meadow which was filled with dug out pits. Everybody started to say that the Germans were going to shoot us by those pits. We all sat down in the meadow and I looked at the crowd of people with surprise. We had been split up into groups. I saw one group where my uncle was. That group was surrounded by machine guns on all sides.
We sat down until dinner like that, and nothing was done to us. A cold wind whistled over us from the east. That wind was our only food. At dinnertime, a truck brought an old field kitchen. After that, the Germans brought several carts of food and weapons. They ordered one group to kneel down and started to get the machine guns ready for shooting.
The guards at our sides had gone, when a taxicab without a roof arrived. An officer and his adjutant were sitting inside. The taxicab stopped, the officer got out and ordered the guards to go back and surround those who were to be shot. The Germans who were going to do the shooting looked at the officer angrily. The officer divided us into two groups: all the able- bodied Poles in one group, and the Ukrainians, Volksdeutschers and infirm Poles in the other. I pretended to be a cripple and a dolt and was counted among the infirm. The officer ordered us to go to the kitchen for food. We were set free.
After being freed, I went home, while my uncle, sad and pale, stayed behind in that meadow. I felt very sorry to leave my uncle, perhaps to die. I was going to run to him, but I remembered my tearful mother, whose face appeared before my eyes. I don’t remember how I found myself standing in front of the kitchen. They gave us burnt groats in rusty pots and birch bark instead of spoons. I wanted to eat, but the sight of the machine guns set up around my uncle took away my appetite. I grabbed the groats and rushed over to him, but what was the point, when the Germans slammed the butts of their rifles into me for trying. I went back to the carts that were standing next to the kitchen. On the carts were weapons of various calibers, ammunition, and grenades.
I wanted some water even though I hadn’t eaten the groats. I went to a nearby house. A boy and a woman were sitting inside. I knew from the pictures that they were Ukrainian. When I asked for water, the woman said that she didn’t have any for Poles. At that moment my friend burst into the house. I gathered my courage, grabbed a bucket of water and ran outside. I drank outside, even though the woman was shrieking at me at the top of her voice.
We moved on. We met Germans with shovels on the way. Everyone started to say that they were going to bury those who had been left behind in the meadow: shooting could be heard in that direction. Sorrow gripped my heart once more, but I thought: it’s God’s will.
We walked like exiles, alone. We met a German on the way who ordered us to go and get our cows. Our cows were in Drohiczany. We reached Drohiczany and there was such activity around the cows there that it was like at the busiest market. Somehow, everyone found their own cows chop-chop, but I couldn’t see any of ours. Eventually, someone told me that a German was holding my cow. I ran quickly. It was true, a German was holding my cow. I went over, grabbed it by the rope and pulled it. The German goggled at me and didn’t want to give me the cow. I tugged a few times and tore the cow away. I couldn’t find the second one. On the way home I passed cars filled with Germans heading in the opposite direction. People were going to Drohiczany in droves for their cows.
When I got to my house, it seemed as though I was in a cold grave. My tearful mother ran out of the house and welcomed me. Then I got some sad news. My mother told me that the Germans had taken my father. He was at Majdanek for six weeks and I was left to be the master of the house.