"ONE TWO THREE FOUR and a SUITCASE"
RAZ, DWA, TRZY, CZTERY I WALIZKA
Basically, we were leaving Poznan because of the advance of the Bolsheviks. I have vague recollections of hearing from somewhere far away some kind of shooting.
I know that for a considerable length of time, Iím not sure whether it was months or weeks, Mama discussed with Jurek and his mother pani de Berg about the departure from Poznan. Anyway, we were all to meet up somewhere in Germany. As far as I know it was Altenburg. The name I remember is General Lampe who was in Berlin. He was the chairman of the White Russians and he suggested Altenburg. Dziadek and Babcia Wolkow were to go there too. And in Altenburg there was a castle on the hill, which belonged to some kind of Russian princess whose name I cannot remember. There we were to obtain some shelter if needed.
Our actual departure from Poland was either at the end of January or beginning of February. I certainly do not remember the date. I know that it was very cold and there may have been snow on the ground. Anyway it was a spur of the moment decision. We left the house late afternoon. Mama did not let anyone know that we were leaving.
Mama had one suitcase with her. A brown one, not very large. Probably not much in it. There were some papers in it - certainly no clothes. These were not documents, just papers, - maybe letters or photographs. We were all dressed in very warm clothes. Marek and Andrzej were on a sledge with the suitcase with Mama and Roman walking and pulling while I was walking behind.
I recollect vividly that as we left the house Mama slammed the front door. I particularly remember this. Many years later I found out from Mama that at the moment of closing the door she put the keys of the house into the letter box as if she felt that something was leading her away from the house. There was something pushing her away from the house never to return. We learned much later on that the house was completely destroyed two weeks later.
Next I remember that we were at the Poznan station where there were no trains. I donít think there were many people there. Mama went to ask a railwayman something. I know that Dziadek was a railway engineer and we would have known many people at the station. There was one locomotive that arrived pulling only one wagon. Mama pushed us all into this wagon and the train departed. I donít think we knew where the train was heading but somewhere to the west towards Germany.
I think this must have been late evening as I remember that it was soon very dark. We travelled for quite a long time, I think it was a day and a night, maybe longer.
We arrived at a very large station in Germany which I think was Frankfurt (am Oder). We left the railway wagon. There were very many German wounded soldiers and nurses on the station. There were masses of people there. We went into a waiting room and suddenly we all four of us and Mama found ourselves under a table. There was an air raid. Mama had us all somehow tied to each other as she was afraid that we would wander off as did happen to one of us. She would frequently check us by counting "raz, dwa, trzy, cztery i walizka" (one. two. three, four and a suitcase).
Then later we again travelled by train but this time a larger, longer train. There were many people and we reached Leipzig. I recollect the station with a large dome without a single panel of glass. On leaving the station there were very large steps, very wide, leading down into the street. Here we got out and headed for Altenburg. I donít remember how we got from the station to Altenburg but it took sometime.
The whole trip from Poznan took a week to ten days but I am not at all sure of this. I donít remember staying or sleeping anywhere during the journey.
The castle I remember very well. It was really magnificent and very large.
There was a large gate at the top of a road leading up the hill. It was open. Inside was a cobbled stone courtyard. On the right of the gate inside this courtyard were some stairs, which lead up to the princessí apartment. We were given a room.
There was a very large corridor and entrance hall in which there were many portraits of the Russian royal family. Roman was sleeping in a gallery of fine paintings. It was a very beautiful apartment. Many antiques. I remember the princess very well. She was very tall rather a sporty masculine type of woman, very sincere but rather cold - well not really - I canít find the word.
Hunger and bombs! Marek or Andrzej- I am not now certain- one of them was almost killed by a bomb while playing in the courtyard. It was either a shell or shrapnel.
Several times we had to go to the cellar which was very deep under the castle. I remember extreme hunger. We used to forage for potato peels that Mama used to bake pancakes in the yard so that we would not be hungry.
I donít remember any other people there. I only remember the princess and there was with her a lady-in-waiting. They lived in a small place. What we called "her apartment" was full of wonderful antiques. The castle grounds were very interesting. We used to ramble about on the outside and played in the courtyards. We obviously did not realise how difficult the situation was for Mama. For us it was great fun. It was quite warm at this time although it was cold when we arrived. This must have been March, I assume. There were no flowers but I remember a dog. I donít know who it belonged to. There was a large tree that I remember. It was in a cobbled courtyard right in front of her apartment. There was some kind of a moat with a bridge which lead to another part of the yard.
I remember very well the arrival of the Americans into the town. One of the first Americans that met Mama was of Polish origin and spoke with her in Polish. We were taken to a school which was made into a collection camp for people like us, that is displaced persons. There were many Poles there who had been deported by the Germans to work as forced labour.
The school was very large. There was a large building with two smaller ones at each side with a large square in the middle. This was situated away from the centre of Altenburg. We used to ride on bicycles in this square. I donít know where we got the bikes. I remember men riding around on motorbikes across the square. They were quite crazy presumably from their joy of freedom. We were only in this camp for several days while we awaited further transportation.
During this time we received parcels from the Americans. They even gave us cigarettes, even to us as children! Roman, Andrzej and I once went to the railway station were we heard that there had been a delivery by train of some sort of sweet syrup. Everyone threw themselves at this which turned out to be something really horrible. It was syrup from beat that could not be eaten.
I donít remember exactly why and when but we visited Buchenwald concentration camp and we saw the horrible nightmare which had just been liberated by the Americans. Full of bodies, piles of bodies and walking dead: people who were still with life but who would surely soon be dead. The Americans very soon stopped these visits as they were afraid of disease spreading. I also remember an execution of some Germans. I didnít see this but was told about it.
Next event I remember was the transport to Wetzlar. We were loaded onto trains but I donít know how long we travelled. This was very interesting from one point of view but also very tiring and very worrying especially for Mama. We passed many trains going the other way to the east in the direction of the Russians who were coming close to Leipzig. There were many Russians on these trains and many of them did not want to go back. They were crying. Mama spoke to the Russian women who did not have any choice but had to go back to Russia.
Wetzlar was a very pleasant camp. There was a polish school, scouts- generally a very pleasant several months. Maybe even six months. We lived in German army barracks. There were six or eight buildings with a prominent large one. There was a small hospital or clinic and the whole camp was surrounded by a fence. This did not mean that we could not go outside. The whole administration was polish but under the control of the Americans. There were many people there, perhaps five or seven hundred.
We had as a family one room to ourselves which was a luxury. There was one bed on which Mama slept and two bunk beds for Roman, Andrzej, Marek and me. There was even a wardrobe. The washrooms and lavatories were communal. There was a laundry. We ate in common dining rooms and there was a common room for all to share. We were all sent to school.
I remember that Roman contracted jaundice and was critically ill in hospital. I got diphtheria and was in a German hospital outside the town for almost a month. The nurses and doctors were all Germans. I was very frightened to be away from Mama in a strange place and country. No one, not even Mama, could visit me. It was lonely and horrible. I remember that there were many infants there with special holes in their throats and the nurses were clearing their throats with some kind of feathers. Andrzej had an accident while running through a field. He go himself impaled on some barbed wire and was also in hospital for several days. I also had a nose operation in a hospital not far from Wetzlar in a place called Gissingen. I had a bone growing in my nose and German doctors had to remove this.
Mama was contemplating returning to Poland and we were already loaded up to go and were awaiting departure. At the last moment Borys De Berg, Jurekís father, from Murnau, a Polish P.O.W. camp, discovered our presence there. He contacted Jurek who was in Italy in Ancona, the H.Q. of the Polish Forces 2nd Corp. He arranged papers for Mama through PCK (Polish Red Cross) to travel to Italy. The papers were brought to Mama by a liaison Officer from Murnau.
So we were next to be transported to Italy. This was by train initially. We stopped somewhere on the way in a camp and met up with some women AK members (Polish Underground Army). We had some very interesting outings with these people who had many stories to tell. This was still in Germany while waiting for transport to Italy.
The last stage to Italy was by lorry. We were travelling as AK members. That is, Mama, Roman and I in army uniforms. Andrzej and Marek were too small for uniforms and hence were illegal travellers and had to be hidden under blankets in the lorries so as not to be seen at the Austrian frontier. Mama was constantly anxious lest they should be discovered.
There was one instant that I remember clearly concerning our travel in Italy. I noticed that someone was selling ice cream on the platform of a station and I asked Roman to nudge Mama and tell her that an Italian was selling ice cream.
In Italy our first place of stay was Ancona. This was July. I remember as this is the month of my birthday. This place made a great impact on me. It was very warm and sunny. In the centre, somewhere by the sea there was a beautiful monument where Jurek took a photo of us all. We have this photo to this day. Jurek treated us to ice cream which was very memorable. We lived in a tent close to Ancona.
We next went to Trani in a small lorry. We bypassed Rome but went to Monte Cassino. I remember vividly visiting the cemetery at Lorretto.
In Trani Roman and I were sent to high school. Andrzej was sent to a primary school and Marek to infants. Mama was working for PCK in a villa where Mrs Anders lived. (The first wife of General Anders). Mama with Andrzej and Marek lived in a small single storey villa while Roman and I were borders in the high school.
We spent a lot of time on the beach and running about vineyards where we gorged ourselves with grapes and other delicious fruits.
Unfortunately this lovely time all came to an end and we next had to travel again, this time to England by train. This was probably towards the end of 1946. I remember the arrival to England. Cold, grey. This was 8th September 1946. We went to a DP camp in Kirkby near Liverpool. We lived in what was known as "barrels". corrugated iron barracks. We stayed there for a very short time before we were relocated to a place called Barons Cross not far from Hereford. We stayed here for several months. I donít remember much from here or from this period.
I came to London and lived somewhere in Kensington with Mama in Mrs Andersí flat for a few days. Shortly after that I went to the Ursuline High School in Brentwood while Mama, Roman, Andrzej and Marek went to live in Edinburgh.
It is interesting that my memories from this trip centre around the time when we left Poznan and during the last months of the war and immediately afterwards. This was a very interesting and memorable period of our life. To a degree a period of terrible experiences. The departure from our family home, the experience of bombing, the dead, the injured, all this has made an engraving on my mind. The moment that things normalised again, that is when things were being done for us- we received food and shelter and no longer had to fight for survival- events were no longer significant and we do not need to remember them so vividly. Perhaps if I were to sit down and dig deeper into my memory I would come up with other interesting things.