• October 2, 2012
  • 266

Lot of exile from Užupis

fot. wilnoteka.lt

The Vilnius world of Krystyna Piotrkowska, maiden name— Mrówka, is a charming Užupis neighbourhood surrounded by hills, swiftly running Vilnia river, well maintained gardens, old trees, three small bridges connecting the neighbourhood with the Old Town and a familiar market, where her mother was doing shopping almost every day.

That is how Mrs Krystyna —today an elderly lady living in Olsztyn— remembers the place where she was born. She went to school there; their home was there— the home of affluence, where her older sister Teresa and younger brother Felek were brought up. She went to school for only one year, though. Then the war began. On the 1st September she started her second grade but on 17th September Soviets entered Vilnius. Her later education was this of life— Altai Krai, Uzbekistan, hard work, misery and the wandering of an exile.

This teacher is unforgettable

Before the war there were two French schools in Vilnius: one on (at that time) Mickiewicz Street and another one, the one to which Krysia was attending, on Filarecka Street. The headmaster was Madame Szapowalnikowa. Mrs Irena Bedekanis worked there as a teacher, an amazing Vilnius lady, who is not with us these days. Krystyna Piotrkowska remembers her until today. “When I read about her years ago in “Magazyn Wilenski”, my memories were brought back, because she was a teacher whom I cannot forget. She also was a very nice woman.”—says Mrs Krystyna.

During the war Mrs Bedekanis kept teaching children on secret meetings, and Hanna Strużanowska, the famous Vilnius doctor, was one of her pupils. Later, Mrs Irena was following her calling until she was old, and irreplaceable Jerzy Surwiłło wrote about her patriotism and lot in “Kurier Wileński”.

Once sickle and hammer, once Vytis

On summer 1939 everyone began to talk about the coming war. Some people believed in it, others did not. At home, Krystyna’s parents were hiding various souvenirs, papers, clothing, and weapon. On 17th September Soviets entered Vilnius.

Little Krysia could not understand the picture that Madame Szapowalnikowa set up on the school’s backyard. Her mum explained that it was a picture of sickle and hummer, the emblem of Soviets. After a few weeks, when Vilnius was given back to Lithuanians, on the same backyard there was another emblem hanging- Vytis.


On 14th June 1941 military trucks arrived at Krystyna’s house. The soldiers started to bang on the door, the children were still sleeping and the mother was doing shopping on the little market. When she went back and saw the trucks, she understood that they came to take them. Her first thought made her go to her neighbour, but the Soviets could take the children. So she went to her house, where the soldiers said that the family is to be displaced.

—When our mother was packing up the needed things, the neighbour came and said that she had some food for us that we could take on our way. The soldiers allowed me alone to go. An armed soldier followed us but the neighbour did not let him in. In the room she gave me the food and warned me not to look at the window. As it turned out, behind a curtain there was our dad. He had come to warn us, but he was late.

The woman with three children was taken to Naujoji Vilnia station. When they were waiting for reloading, a girl approached and asked if they needed anything. “Bread”—said mother and gave the girl some money. After longer time, when the train was already departing, the girl ran to them with a huge loaf of bread.

Childbirth in train

Nobody actually knew where the train was taking the exiles. After two weeks, on 1st July, they arrived at Rubtsovsk in Altai Krai. There were barracks, built by the people who were there before them, exiles from Ukraine. The mother began extremely hard work in a quarry.

“Our mum was pregnant with the fourth child, but nobody paid attention”—says Mrs Krystyna.

In December of the same year the Mrówka family was sent to Uzbekistan. The train passed Alma-ata, Karaganda. Suddenly, mum started to moan quietly. It was a sign that the labour began. Little Krysia, Tereska and Felek were moved to another carriage. Someone found a midwife in the train, and with her help the baby was born. The midwife splashed the baby with some water as if during a baptising ceremony. She was named Eliza.

The transport reached the Fergana Valley. Everyone was told to leave the carriages. Three children, a mother with a new-born baby at her breast, December frost and the unknown—what now?

On the second platform another transport stopped, in which Polish soldiers from Siberia were going do General Anders’ army. Some of them were from Vilnius and a father’s friend was among them. And a miracle happened— there was also a priest. A baby was born? Then it must be baptised. It was the 6th of December and everyone was joking that it was a gift from Saint Nicholas.

Struggle for survival

The soldiers left and for the exiled people more tragic events were awaiting: death of closest relatives, illnesses, inhuman work and struggle for survival. On their road, the mother and four children went through four kolkhozes and more miseries.

In the first kolkhoz Ela died. In the second one, illnesses got them: typhoid, marsh fever, dysentery, and scabies. The two older sisters, Tereska and Krysia, were also sick, and when they recovered, mum sent them to an orphanage. The conditions there were far from ideal. Teresa died soon. Krysia was in very miserable condition. The headmaster of the orphanage sent her back saying “it will be better for her if she dies close to her mother.” But with mother’s good care the girl was saved.

An unforgettable event was the visit of the field bishop of the Polis Army Józef Gawlin, who came from Teheran to give sacraments to the Poles. It was 1942.

Meanwhile, mother learned how to make astrakhans and she was working in a fur store. At nights she was knitting warm socks which she was later selling on a market. For the money she got she was buying food.

—By coincidence, mum came to know an actress from a theatre in Odessa. They both knew the city because mum was there a few times. One day the women went to a kolkhoz, into mountains. They saw two little girls who obviously were not from that region, because both hade blond hair. They were speaking in Polish. Mum and the actress decided that the orphans must be saved. They decided that the girls should hide for some time in a ditch and the women would come and take them. It was done so. The girls were sent to an orphanage.
—And imagine that after the war, Lodzia and Janka were found in Poland— one in Bydgoszcz, the other in Cracow. When we met, they said they were praying for the lady who had saved them, or actually had stolen them away from the Uzbeks. And it was my mum.—smiled Krystyna.

Polish school in Bukhara

Next town was Bukhara. There, thanks to the Union of Polish Patriots, a Polish school was established. Krysia finished grades III, IV and V. The conditions were horrible: starvation, lack of clothes and water, heat, but brother and sister survived everything. Together they waited until 5th May 1946. On that day they began their way back to Poland. They told their mum that when they are in Poland they would inform mum’s sister, who was living in Ostrowiec Świętokrzyski. The way was very long and tough, but they were going back to their motherland, after five years of torment and misery.

Family reunified

They were passing cities and villages until they arrived at Warsaw. Mrs Krystyna sees the ruins and debris they saw there until today. The orphanage stayed in Gostynin and then they were sent to Ostróda. Mum found her children on that city in Warmia region. The family was together again. Despite desperate search, they did not manage to find the father.

Mum got a job in an orphanage in Susz, and therefore she also had a room to live in. With time she got promoted. Then there was an orphanage in Biskupiec Reszelski, in Gryźliny next to Olsztynek. But the effects of hardships began to show up. She was terminally ill and died in 1960 in a hospital in Ostróda.

“Why did you go there?”

Life was measuring another distances. Krystyna finished a high school in Ostróda, and then she started a nursing school in Olsztyn. There, she met her future husband, Witold Piotrkowski from Poznań.

—There, in central Poland, people did not believe that we had to go through all that. Even my mother-in-law, when I was telling her about our exile, said “So why did you go there? You could stay.” And I am not surprised, because someone who did not lived through it is not able to believe easily that most Poles from the Borderland experienced it. I do not complain, I am aware that as an adult person I have had a good life, but the childhood trauma is still haunting me.

Grandma’s pride

Mrs Krystyna has two daughters, Ewa and Hanna, and grandchildren. Now she is a grand grandmother. Her husband died years ago. One of her grandsons, Kamil Kotliński, is his grandma’s great pride. He has a PhD degree and he works at the Economy Faculty of the Warmińsko-Mazurski University.

She is liked and respected. She belongs to the Association of Siberians, where every member carries another history of exile on inhuman land.

Source: http://www.wilnoteka.lt/pl/artykul/los-zeslanki-z-zarzecza  

Tłumaczenie Emilia Zawieracz w ramach praktyk w Europejskiej Fundacji Praw Człowieka, www.efhr.eu. Translated by Emilia Zawieracz the framework of a traineeship programme of the European Foundation of Human Rights, www.efhr.eu.

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