Ch. 4
MY VISIT TO DAWIDGRÓDEK on Pripet marshes, POLESIE, POLAND in 1938

In 1938, during my Whitsuntide holiday College break, I went on my own with other Postal staff families from Pinsk on a two days river excursion visit to Postal staff in Dawidgródek.

No, we did not go by rowing-boats! We went by a large paddle steamer shown below anchored on the river Pina in the vicinity of the Jesuits Church. Pinsk was a river port with lots of boats and Military River Navy. We traveled from Pinsk by river Pina, then by river Prypec (now Pripyat') and then river Horyn (Goryn).

 

The following photo was taken in Dawidgródek in river boats after we crossed wide river Horyn from one venue of the meeting on one side of the river to the other. It shows Postal, Telephone and Telegraph officers from Pinsk and Dawidgródek, and some families.

Postal Officers and families from Pinsk and Dawidgródek - 1938

I am 14 ½ years old and I am sitting right in the middle on the second boat, next to a student-girl (see her badge on a college beret). I have my college number-badge on my left-hand shoulder. I did not know the girl. She was local. Further to my left, a bit past the girl, sits the daughter of the postmaster from Pinsk, also in a college beret with a badge. And her younger sister is sitting in front of us in a light beret. Their father, the postmaster from Pinsk (I think his name was Juchniewicz) is sitting on my right in a white shirt. And the postmaster from Dawidgródek is standing right above me in a singlet.

The guys in white singlets had just played the traditional, on such occasions, volleyball game. They all have initials PPW on their singlets, which stands for "Pocztowe Przysposobienie Wojskowe", meaning Postal Officers Army Training Corps. The initials were embroidered - we did not have printed tee-shirts at those times. Because of the clouds of war gathering over Europe, people were preparing for it. Austria was already occupied by Hitler. I belonged to the college cadet corps, too.

The man standing on far left is not a military. He wears a postman's uniform with Polish eagle on his cap, as all uniformed public employees did .

70 YEARS LATER - Year 2008
I received an email from the little boy on the photo, with long hair, first on the left at the bottom of the photo. He is Ryszard Karczmitowicz from Kalisz, Poland, who discovered the photo on the Internet and recognised himself. He contacted me in Australia after 70 years!
His emails in Polish are translated below. For link to his Polish text see: Email no. 051

19 February 2008
I am on this photo and I have this photo!
I am sitting on the first boat, I am the first one on the left (with long hair) next to my late brother and late mother. On the boat behind us is my late father, standing (3rd from the left, with no hair, which he lost after a typhus fever in Siberia in 1920). So we are Ryszard, Jerzy, Maria and Stanislaw Karczmitowicz .

My father was an assistant in the Main Post and Telegraph Office in Dawidgródek. The postmaster was Mr. Marcinkiewicz (he is standing and supporting himself on the shoulders of two men). Our postal staff played a volleyball game with (visitors from) Pinsk, we've lost. There were also some athletic contests. My father told me that he won at the high jump. We went to Pinsk few times, using a permanent connection by the river navigation on "Warszawa" and "Piast" boats. On the Access to the (Baltic) Sea Day by Poland, the Pinsk river flotilla, which was stationed on the river Pina patrolling our eastern borders with Russia, used to arrive to take part in the celebrations.

In 1939, the September water level (of the rivers in Polesie) was very low, which handicapped an effective flotilla participation in resisting the bolsheviks. The Reds have seized the area. And in June 1941, after the Germans occupied Dawidgródek, the Soviets moved by river (on boats) close to town and shelled it in broad daylight. The German soldiers were taking cover behind the houses, spilling their rations of milk and potatoes from their mess tins - I was the eye witness of that. But this was only one incident of what we have been through in Dawidgródek during 1939-1945. Thanks to the fact that father remained often the only postal employee who was able to service the telephone exchange and especially the Morse telegraph equipment, we were being left by successively changing occupiers, where we were.

My father already had to do with the Soviet rule in Omsk (Siberia) where he was working with the Cable Telegraph at the railway station, and where he lived through the Bolshevik Revolution. After the signing of Polish - Soviet Treaty in 1921, he escaped by a freight train to Smolensk, and later to Wilno area in Eastern Poland where his family came from.

We returned to Poland in 1945 as repatriates from "behind the river Bug" (i.e. from former Polish Kresy), settling down in Kalisz, the home town of my mum.

Best regards to Rymaszewski family Senior and the whole family -
Ryszard Karczmitowicz
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21 February 2008 - MY REPLY
Dear Ryszard!
Your email was a great surprise for me. Whenever I looked at that photo from Dawidgródek I always thought about your family and especially about little George, your little brother. What a pity he is already deceased. I remember yourself and your mother well from that visit in Dawidgródek. And I met your mum a year earlier in Luniniec in 1937. It happened like this, the Management of the Postal Region in Wilno, that included Wilno, Nowogródek and Polesie provinces, has been arranging during school holidays summer camps for children of their Postal officers. The camp was in the forest near a river somewhere in the Nowogródek area, eastwards from the railway stop in Dworzec. In 1937 it was my third and last vacation in the camp. Traveling there by train with some children from Pinsk, we had to change trains in Luniniec (to go northwards). On the platform your mum appeared with little George who was going to join our group. Mrs Maria, when she saw me, a 13 year old student in a College uniform, said to me " Could you, sir, look after George at the camp, he is small and by himself". I promised that I would, and I suddenly I felt quite grown up. I had no idea how old George was, probably not more than 7 years old. We spent the whole month at the camp. This is a very long period of time for the children. Whenever my peers talked to me about little George, they described him as " that pet of yours". When George was missing home, I was cheering him up. When he received a letter and a parcel from his parents, I helped him to write a letter home. But, as a matter of fact, even I myself was missing my home, especially our huge garden full of vegetables, edible cucumbers and tomatoes, radishes, etc, raspberries, cherries and fruit.

A year later, during that memorable visit in 1938, my meeting with you was a surprise, because I didn't actually remember that George lived in Dawidgródek. We met accidentally probably somewhere near the church. Little George was walking with you and your mother. I was walking alone. I recognised George at once, and he recognised me. He shouted "Franek!, run towards me and got stuck to me. You were only smiling sympathetically. Your mum realized at once what this was all about. And this time your mother in gratitude took care of me, as I was there by myself. After seeing the township and all those sport events, there was a reception in a restaurant. Probably it was a Polish restaurant as I don't recall seeing any Jews who were so visible in Pinsk. In the restaurant your mother gave me special attention, making sure about my meal, at the same time explaining to those around about my care of little George at the summer camp.

I don't have much strength now and time (which is getting shorter and shorter) for an extended correspondence, so I will remain with thoughts of you and your family from our Polish Dawidgródek in Kalisz. My best regards. Franek Rymaszewski from Pinsk
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26 February 2008
Dear Franek!
I have read your letter with great emotion, it brought tears to my eyes. How is it possible after 70 years to find somebody who was so close and still is to my beloved Polesie and my family? And yet it is. Your web site was discovered by our daughter Ala, who lives in Poznan, in connection with her preparation of an album for the 50th wedding anniversary of parents, i.e. myself and my wife Wanda.

This our meeting was for sure in front of the church. It was a brand new church built from the contributions of our compatriots, and my father was the president of the building committee. On the 18 September 1939 (one day after invasion of easter Poland by the Red Army), the Communists tore off the cross from the church steeple by means of ropes. I witnessed it personally with my brother George. After uprooting the Poles, as you rightly described, the church spires were destroyed in 1945, and the building was turned into a "House of Culture" (i.e. Soviet brainwashing and propaganda Centre).

The restaurant you mention was probably owned by Mr. Gryczyk, where we always went for the ice cream. George had a photo from the summer camp, I'll try to find it. I found on the road map of Europe that this railway station Dworzec, is now called now Dvorec and is situated between Nowogródek and Slonim.

I don't know if you are aware that our Polesie was ruined by the Soviet rulers, the marshes of the northern part from Pinsk and river Prypec (now Pripyat') were dried, causing complete blunting of the soil. The southern part remained, but it was contaminated after the explosion of the nuclear power station in Charnobyl in 1986. In 2002 I went to Pinsk and Dawidgródek, but I will write about it in my next letter. My Kind Regards, wishing you health, Ryszard.

SOME HISTORIC IMAGES SENT TO ME BY RYSZARD KARCZMITOWICZ
Large fire in Dawidgródek in 1936
View of fire in Dawidgródek in 1936 from the river Horyn
Postal officers in Dawidgródek and their wives
and the Karczmitowicz boys in front : Jurek and Rysiek. Year 1937.
Note that the postal officers are in postal uniforms that vary according to grade or seniority. The postal uniforms were customarily worn only for special official occasions like national anniversaries, ceremonies, etc. Normally they wore a suit, of course, except the Postmen.
Celebrating church holiday Corpus Christi (Boze Cialo). An altar in front of the Post Office built for this purpose. Jurek on the left and his father higher up, Rysiek on the right with his mother behind.
Primary School in Dawidgródek. End of June 1939. The end of school year before summer holidays break. Little Rysiek, on the right of the male teacher, is holding his brother's Jurek certificate, who is standing next to him in a sailor's dress. Rysiek had his introduction to school day, as he was going to attend school soon in September 1939, but the war broke out and Dawidgródek was invaded by the Soviet Red Army.
Mrs Maria Karczmitowicz is standing on the right, also some Army sergeant, I think wearing the KOP Border Guard Corps cap.
KOP = "Korpus Ochrony Pogranicza"
 
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