MARIA GRZYWALSKA

Class 7
Elementary School No. 2 in Hrubieszów

My wartime experiences

For us Poles, the year 1939 was both terrible and memorable, for it was then that the Germans broke off the non–aggression pact. This meant that there would be war. Soon after they broke off the pact, the Germans sent airplanes to bomb our cities, factories and villages. I was then a small girl and I didn’t really know what war is. I saw Polish soldiers marching against the Germans; they were ready to defend their Homeland to the last drop of blood. I heard the roar of exploding shells, and the moans of the wounded Polish soldiers being driven off to hospitals. And I saw the faces of the Germans, cruel and vengeful, with wild smiles of triumph.

The Germans occupied our country. The Ukrainians helped them considerably by attacking smaller Polish units. After the Polish Army had been completely destroyed, I often slept with my parents in the field, for the Ukrainians started threatening the Polish civilian population. And so we were very happy when the Red Army entered our village. This helped subdue the Ukrainian gangs which prowled around the forests, and everything started to return to normal.

Schools were opened, too, but only the Russian and Ukrainian ones. There were no Polish schools where we lived. It is not surprising that I felt resentment towards the Germans, for it was they who had deprived so many Polish children of the possibility of studying the Polish language or Polish history. Although history was not taught in school, I read many history books at home, just to get some knowledge of Polish history. It was like this until 1942.

In June 1942 [sic!], just as had been the case with Poland, the Germans launched a surprise attack on Russia, which was unprepared to defend itself against such an onslaught. For us, Poles, this marked the beginning of a period of suffering and danger. The Ukrainian gangs reappeared in the forests. We frequently received news that here and there the Polish residents of an entire village had been cruelly murdered. Such incidents became ever more frequent and kept occurring closer and closer to our village.

One day I learned that our village would be next. We did not dally. Together with other Poles from a nearby village, we packed some small suitcases and left our settlement, making our way to a small town which had a German garrison. Many people from other villages had already gathered there. The next day the Germans sent us by train to the district township of Kowel, where there were more Germans. Initially, I felt bad there. Over time, however, I got used to my new surroundings, and had it not been for my longing to return home, I would have been perfectly alright.

One day the quiet was broken by a boom. The Germans told us that the front line was drawing near. More booms followed, coming closer and closer each day. One day in March 1944 the shells started falling just outside our town. We learned that the whole city had been surrounded by the Red Army. The hail of shells and bullets intensified by the minute. Initially, the booms and roars – and the rumble of aircraft bombing the town – terrified me. But after a few days I got used to all this, and would even be sad if they stopped shooting and shelling for a while. While my parents sat in the shelter, I spent my time at home. I thought that it was safer at home. How wrong I was.

One day, while I was sitting by the stove, I was blinded by a flash – my head spun and I fell to the floor. When I opened my eyes, I saw rubble all around me, and some red, acrid smoke was pouring out of the smashed windows. I saw a large hole in the wall and understood that it must have been made by an artillery shell. So I quickly got up and started brushing the dust off my clothes, even though there were still clouds of dust in the air.

On that day the Red Army took our street and evacuated us. We moved out with joy, for we had had enough of the booms and the moans of the wounded. We were sent as far back as Łuck. After a few months, we returned to Włodzimierz, and from there we went to Hrubieszów. That is where the end of the war found me.