1 : 1939 - Germany & Russia Attack Poland    4 : Back to Work
 2 : The Train to Russian Internment  5 : 1941 - News of Release
 3 : A Stay in Hospital Near to Death  6 : Imprisoned Again

5 : 1941 - News of Release

One of our menne of our men found a piece of Russian newspaper and we read about Sikorski's agreement. Everybody started singing for joy. That day one more of our men died. I heard some Russians saying: "Paliaki prapieli ieshcho odnogo" (By their singing, the Poles have caused another death). We were not told anything officially about our situation for some time after.

Then one day the barges stopped and an official came onto the top deck and called out: "Vniemanie" (Attention) : all Polish citizens will be called out and will disembark. At this point Edward and I parted company, as Edward was called out first and we lost contact with each other until 1944.

The first groups called out were taken to another barge and back to the camp, where they were given some food and a few rubles and put on a train to go South. As we were leaving the barges, Russian hooligans were snatching the pathetic little bundles of rags we were carrying, which was observed by our escorts without intervention. We believed that there was collusion between the guards and the hooligans to share the loot which people in the West would handle only with a long fork, for fear of contamination.

Finally I was called out. I got into another barge and arrived at the camp, there was no more food or money available. I was taken into a hut where there were several NKVD officers, who tried to persuade me to join the Russian army. I had to be very careful as to what I said as any sign of hostility could be the end of freedom. So I just said I was not educated in Russian and would not feel right in the Russian army. After several attempts at persuasion, they gave up and allowed me to board the cattle truck, and when the train was assembled, we started our journey South via Kotlas to Svierdlovsk along the railway we had built.

Occasionally they would give us some boiled fish and a piece of bread and on some stations as much "kipiatok" (boiled water) as we wanted. The train stopped frequently to allow military trains through. We could hear passing Russian soldiers singing, but now the songs were different, such as: "Na prasno starushka zhdiot syna damoi, on niekagda nie vierniottsa" (In vain the old woman is awaiting here son, for he shall never come back…). The Belorussians were singing: "Tam na pol'iu sniezhok pylit', tam zabityi saldat liazhyt'…" (There in the field, snow is dusting, there a dead soldier lays…). It was strange for us to travel in Russia without an escort.

On arrival at Svierdlovsk, we were told that the Polish recruiting office had moved to Kuybishov, and that our train will stay at the station for at least two hours. So I decided to go out and try to buy some food with the boots money, but it wasn't enough to buy anything. One woman pointed to my shirt and said she would buy it from me. So I took the shirt off, and she gave me a small bantam hen and a few potatoes for it. On the way back to the train I saw a large can by the well, used as a bucket so I filled it with water and ran back to the train, gathering bits of wood as I ran. I plucked and cleaned the chicken and potatoes, lit up a fire and started cooking. Before long a railway man shouted - all aboard. I grabbed my can and jumped into my cattle truck. At the next stop I ran out and found some nettles, and added these to the soup and started to cook again, but before it came to the boil, it was all aboard again.

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In one place we saw a huge mound of salt guarded by men with guns, and a few kilometres from there, salt was sold on the black market by the matchboxfull at a very high price. In other places large piles of wheat, also guarded by armed men, were growing green, and along the roads, people were dying of starvation, and men with horse-drawn carts were collecting the corpses.

On arrival at Kuybishov we were told that the recruiting office had now been moved to Buzulluk. Here we were given a piece of bread and a piece of dry fish. After a short stop the train went to Buzulluk. We had another short stop to let the military train go through and I tried to cook again, but couldn't finish it. On arrival at Buzulluk we were told that the Polish recruiting office was closed and we would have to go to Bukhara via Tashkent. Stopping a few more times I finally finished my cooking somewhere near Tashkent. There was about four gallons of soup, so everybody in the truck had some and all gave praises saying it was the best soup they have had for a very long time.

In the truck there were several Polish ex-POW's who were telling us their stories. How they were caught by the Russians, marched for a hundred kilometres, and when anyone got ill and couldn't walk any further, they were told to sit down and wait for an ambulance. Instead of an ambulance, a detachment of NKVD would come and finish them off by shooting them in the back of the head.

The train stopped at Tashkent and we got out to have a look around. It was a drab old station still marked with the Turkish new moon and star. After a short stay, the train went towards Bukhara and Samarkand. Somewhere between Bukhara and Samarkand the train stopped to let military and evacuees trains go through. I went out to see if I could buy a few potatoes with my boot money. It was very hot and no one was in sight, so I went to the nearest hamlet and knocked on the door. Someone said "Come in" in Russian and I entered.

In the middle of the shack was a table, one leg supported by a piece of wood. At the table a family of three were having a meal; a man, a woman and a small child. On the table was a broken dish with some potatoes no bigger than walnuts and another with a little salt. They were dipping potatoes in salt and eating them. I realised that they would have nothing to sell, so I asked if I could have some water. The woman looked at me and asked who was I? I said I was a Pole just released from a labour camp. I could see that she was holding her tears back. Probably someone from her family was in one of those camps. She invited me to the table. I said no thank you, my train might go. Then the man said no your train will stay here for another hour. So I sat down and had a few potatoes. The woman went out to a little lean-to and came back with half a glassful of milk and gave it to me. They were Russian people, not the local Mongols. I often wondered how such people could be subjected to such an evil regime.

A number of trains went by, full of evacuees from Ukraine, Byelorussia and Western Russia. Finally our train moved on to Samarkand.

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Part 5

At Samarkand we got out of our train and had to sleep outside for a few nights, while waiting for barges to arrive on the river Amudaria. After a few days the barges did arrive and we embarked and sailed down the river Amudaria to Nukus, on the Aral sea. The barges were stopping at night and we could go out and have a little walk around. The steppe along the river was sandy, with tufts of tall grass and some tamarisk bushes showing from the sand dunes. In the distance we could see silhouettes of camel caravans passing by. After a few days we arrived at Nukus and disembarked.

Sometime later an Uzbeki "babay" (man) arrived with an oxen driven "arba" (two wheeled cart), to lead us to a kolkhoz near Takhtakupyr, one hundred and twenty kilometres away. We walked behind the cart to kolkhoz "Ilyich" (named after Lenin), about six kilometres from Takhtakupyr. There we were given some "lepioshki" (sesame flat bread) and "kipiatok" (boiled water). I assessed the characters in our group and didn't like some of them. A young boy from Lwów got friendly with me and was always with me; his name was Janek. One of the Uzbeks spoke Russian and he told us that we had a choice — to stay with the Uzbeki families or to stay in a group in an allocated dwelling. Janek asked me what I would do. I told him that some of the people among us are not very nice and would soon get us all into trouble and we would be better off with the local families. So we both decided to stay with the Uzbeks.

I was to stay with the man who spoke Russian, and Janek with his neighbour. My host turned out to be the local teacher. He lived with his mother, brother and the second wife of his father. His father was killed by Budionnyi's Red Cavalry after the revolution and he never forgave them for it. At first he looked at me with some suspicion.

Throughout outer Mongolia any white man would be watched and as one was passing by, one would hear: "Ah, Samara babay, carapchooch, y'allah", (Ah, Samara man, thief, go away). This is because the first white men they had seen were Russian adventurers from Samara. They lived off what they could steal and even stole footware from the steps of the mosque, which is unforgivable sacrilege. They looked on us, Poles, as some sort of western curiosity.

As time went by they began to trust me, and my host proved it when he was going to Takhtakupur with his mother and brother and gave me the key to his shack, as he thought that the other woman would steal from him and pass it to her man-friend. There was little to steal anyway.

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Part 5
We slept in a tent-like accommodation made of a wooden basket-like structure covered with home made felt with an opening at the top. In the middle was a large tripod with a shallow cauldron for cooking meals, usually rice or sesame meal noodles and occasionally a little meat. The meals were started by the head of the household pouring water from a special pot rather like a tall teapot, onto everybody's hands and passing around a special towel to dry the hands with. Then everybody would take the food from a large wooden dish by hand. We slept on the mats around the fire.
Part 5
Uzbeki yurta

Uzbeki tent, called in Russian "yurta", with cauldron in the middle.

For making sesame flat bread Uzbeks used a "LEPIOSHKI" BAKING OVEN.

My host's name was Ganiyev Turiniaz. His brother was looking after a herd of pigs and he fed them by cutting down some hawthorn trees so that they could eat the leaves and berries.

They didn't eat pork and the pigs were kept by kolkhoz for the government, so they would not sacrifice any of their food for the pigs or the government. There was one man in the kolkhoz who was allowed to shoot some game, like pheasants. This would be distributed among all the Kolkhozniks. They had no gunpowder, so they would strip match heads and use that as gun powder. I told my host that I could make gunpowder if he could find some saltpetre and sulphur, and we could make some charcoal. But it was impossible to get any locally. They often asked me about such things as tables, beds, chairs and so on. Was the table like the one they have in "kantora"? (office) and could I make one. I said yes, I could, if they would provide the timber and some tools. I didn't have to go to work like the others, gathering cotton in the fields, but just did odd jobs around the house and mostly answering the questions that they persistently asked about life in Poland and elsewhere.

By now my footwear was worn out. My friend Janek who was a shoemaker's apprentice said he would make me something if we could find something to make it from. We did find some canvas, bits of leather and rubber and Janek made me something resembling shoes.

The rest of our group were living in a shack allocated to them and, as I suspected, the rough characters did get them into trouble, and some of them were arrested and sent back to gulag for stealing food.

One morning after breakfast Turiniaz asked me if I would like to go out for a walk. I was intrigued, and said yes. We went a few hundred yards up onto a small rise. Turiniaz stopped and pointed out to the horizon right around and said, all this was my father's land. The Russians have taken it all away. Herds of sheep, goats, cattle, camels and horses as well as hundreds of metres of felt. Budionnyi used the felt for saddles and they ate all the livestock. One day we shall take it back, but now we wait.

Soon after we were informed that the Polish recruiting office had re-opened in Bukhara. Next day we started walking to Nukus. It took us a day and a night to walk 120 kilometres, and we arrived at Nukus the next morning. After soaking my blistered feet in the River Amudaria, we boarded the barges and sailed to Farab near Samarkand. While sailing up the river Amudaria we watched the flight of three white eagles over Amudaria and over our barges. The majestic flight of the eagles was taken as a good omen. I also witnessed a reunion of husband and wife, both slave labourers, who were parted in Poland in 1939. And it was here that I was robbed of a little bit of food by two Rolnicki brothers and I could never forgive them for it.

We arrived at Farab and disembarked. On a siding leading to Samarkand were several rail trucks and we were told that would could stay in them until the train was available to take us to Bukhara. One of the militia officers had shot an Alsatian dog and told us to take it to a given address, where someone would skin it and we could take the meat and cook it. This was done. We slept in the trucks. Next day an NKVD officer came and took four men to collect some soup. I was one of them. He led us to a communal kitchen, where we collected two large containers of soup, or rather boiled water with a few green tomatoes in it. On our return, the militia surrounded the trucks and arrested a number of men, including me.

 1 : 1939 - Germany & Russia Attack Poland    4 : Back to Work
 2 : The Train to Russian Internment  5 : 1941 - News of Release
 3 : A Stay in Hospital Near to Death  6 : Imprisoned Again