Many of the letters that are read to me have been about everyday news, how the family is doing, thanks extended for the packages received from my parents in England. There was so much poverty in resettled, post-war Poland that simple items, such as shoes, blankets, sewing needles and stockings were greatly appreciated, especially by those returning from Siberia with nothing. In fact care packages came with one shoe at a time because if a pair was shipped together, the shoes were stolen. Blankets were used to make warm coats for the winter. It took until 1947-48 for my aunt to make a comment that she finally felt human again, since she could go out in public and look somewhat descent.
Every once in a while I would come across a few letters that contained some good nuggets of information.
Letters from my mother’s beloved uncle Franek, the priest were exceptionally informative. They were from early in 1947 which enlightened my mother about the fate of her mother who was left in Kosow. What Franek wrote must have made my mother sob while she read these letters. My mother may have received notification of her mother’s death since I a have a very small piece of paper that certifies Magdalena’s death as 3/30/1944, stamped 1946, since there was no formal death certificate. When she actually received this notice, is uncertain.
Franek, the priest spent the war in Kosow, when they were invaded by the Soviets in 1939, then taken over by the Nazi’s in 1941, then in 1944 again by the Soviets. The post-war letters from him gave my mother clear details about those years after my mother and grandfather were arrested and taken away. My mother spent some time in a prison in Stanislawow, which was close enough for Magdalena, my grandmother to go to, to bring packages but not to visit wich must not been allowed. Magdalena kept the scraps of paper that my mother signed to receive these packages as relics. She lived alone in her house in Kosow, while her brother the priest lived with their mother. In January 1944, Franek fell ill with pneumonia, and Magdalena cared for Franek daily. Even though their mother fell ill as well, it was Franek who needed the most care. They did not want him to go to the hospital, because he surely would die there.
In February or March 1944, the Nazi’s left the town, because the Soviets were on the horizon. In early March there were rumors that there were going to be mass murders of Polish people by the Ukrainians Nationalists, where if you did not flee the area, you were in danger. Franek felt so guilty because Magdalena was there caring for him and she could not and would not flee.
Then came the two days of mass murders in March, the 29th and the 30th. Franek wanted his sister to go to the Polish leader’s/organizer’s home where she would be safe, and not return to her own home. She did not want to do this, but he firmly insisted, for after all she would be back the next days as usual. In tears she said goodbye to her mother, said nothing to Franek, and begrudgingly left. Within minutes he could hear gun shots, then shortly after saw a big ball of flames, which turned out to be the Polish leader’s home, and other homes going up in flames. He thought that his sister was burning in one of them. She actually fell victim to the gun shots that he heard shortly after she left his house. Her body was brought back to the house the next morning. Apparently she was surrounded by Bandalaria’s/bandits, the Ukrainian Nationalists when she was walking. They encircled her, shot her four times in the chest and left her body in the snow. 78 people were killed that night.
Franek and their mother survived by not going anywhere. The guilt he carried because he insisted that she leave for her own safety, must have been so heavy, so heart breaking, and here he was recounting all the details to my mother in a letter three years later.
After those murderous days, every Pole in town lived in fear. People did not want to stay the night in their own homes for fear of violence, so they hid in the cemetery at night or the church attic. By the end of April another wave of murders occurred in Kosow, similar to what happened in March. The Ukrainian Nationalists were responsible for the violence, since they saw the opportunity to control the land they felt was theirs and clear it of Polish people. After all there was no governing power in the town at the time. This nationalism was fueled by the Germans, since they were not the sitting power any more. The war front was surrounding them as well. Since the Soviets were closing in, there was fighting in the vicinity with the Nazi’s and towns people were evacuated to a near-by town for 2 ½ months. After they returned home, they were evacuated two more times.
I was so excited to learn this information, some concrete facts and dates. Anther nugget of information was to learn that my grandmother did hear from her husband who was shipped off to Siberia with her daughter. The last time she heard from him was in 1941, from somewhere in Kazakhstan. Did he get released after amnesty? Did he perish while traveling out of the Soviet Union or did he simply not see the day when he could have been set free?