Please welcome Mark from Alaska. It seems that each day brings new
histories to our group - each personal and different from the others, but
all united in human tragedy at the hands of the Soviets.
Mark, I am sure that we are all fascinated with your planned trip to the
former Polish Eastern Borderlands near Tarnopol. Do any members of our
group have advice for Mark as he plans his trip?
My grandfather began life as a subject of Austrian-Poland. In 1912 he
emigrated to the US from the Krosno area of Poland. His father before him
had made several trips to the U.S. to work in the late 1800's returning from
his third trip with enough money to carry timbers from the forest of Dukli,
and build a new log house with thatched roof in Glowienka. My grandfather
was to send money back to the village when he found work, which he did.
Then WW1 came. My grandfather enlisted and served in the American
Expeditionary Force in France, seeing all of the combat the AEF saw. He
stayed on in France with the army of occupation until the end of 1919 when
he returned to the US. He was not even a citizen yet. His brothers and his
sister's husbands were all drafted into the Austrian Army on the Russian
front. Again his brothers fought with Pilsudski against the russians in the
war that followed. After these wars, my grandfather's sister's families,
and his brothers remaining alive, sold their houses near Krosno and rode to
Podole as settlers. They bought large fields in the vicinity of Buczacz.
It was prairie with no houses and no trees. Eventually they built a
village, planted orchards and kept bees. My grandfather's brother served as
a magistrate in Jaslowce. And then: "Feb. 10, 1940 at 4 a.m. Soviet
soldiers broke into the house prepared to shoot their carbines. The whole
village was under guard to prevent anyone from escaping. Our fathers and
brothers were put up against the wall with their hands up and mother and the
older girls were ordered to pack for the road in 40 minutes. What can be
taken in 40 minutes - some clothing, bedding, and bread which was freshly
baked." - this letter from a cousin of my father.
The story goes on to the boxcars and the 3 week journey to KOMI Republic,
the barracks, the vermin, the work, the "lagre", the bread ration, the
frostbite, and the sickness and the death, first the children, then their
parents. The narrative goes on about General Bernlinger [Berling - SW] and
the 1st Kosciuszko Division, and my grandfather's brother's battle stories
from Leninio to Berlin, and one of their deaths. It also tells of their
children, left behind, taken to orphanages when their mother's died in the
camps. The children have never been heard from again.
In 1946, the decimated survivors were returned to Poland, but not to their
parent's house. All in ruined health, debilitated and without men, they
began their lives again, with not one bit of compensation for their losses
of life and property.
While in this country, my father's family grocer was Gomulka's own brother.
I am planning a trip soon to Poland/Ukraine and I am doing my research now.
I am interested in your group as a type of barometer, to acclimate myself to
which way the wind is blowing, so that I might be more efficient in
educating myself about your issue and the region. I cannot guess what I
might learn, or what I might have to contribute. I only recognize that I
have a personal, and family interest in the subject matter.
Not everyone from Buczacz was sent in boxcars in winter to KOMI. One of my
grandfather's sisters was married to a cavalry officer in the Polish army,
who was returning home at the outbreak of the Russian invasion (WW2). He
was shot dead on his own doorstep. His wife and 2 of his 3 daughters
escaped eventually back to Glowienka, leaving a 3rd daughter in the care of
a Ukrainian family. In 1976 when the borders were loosened a bit, the
mother returned to visit her daughter near Ternopol. The train remained
shuttered for the entire trip. The mother found the living conditions
alarming. So poor was her daughter's family, that there were not enough
cooking utensils, the daughter looking as old as the mother. She married
and had 3 daughters of her own, now my age. So you see, I have family on
both sides of the border and missing cousins in KOMI.
Perhaps I may learn something of them?
I read your goals of Research, Remembrance, Recogniton, but what about
Reconnection?, Renewal?, and Reacquaintance?
I live in the former russian territory of Alaska.
It is still winter, and I have some time available.