Interviewed by C. Wangrin, December, 2003
(Please read My Thoughts on WWII before reading this oral history.)
M. That 1000-mile strip has probably changed hands over several centuries I suppose. Some kind of war comes off and it changes hands, so it was returned just before. (laughs)
C. Juanita was saying something about this uncle.
M. Well she was saying the youngest uncle wanted to marry a Polish girl and he was here, so Mother somehow or other, and this was in the western part of Poland where we lived last and she knew a family and knew of a particular woman who had a young sister and so one time Mother and he went to Poland. One interesting part was that when they landed and visited the family then they found not a cab but a gentleman who had a car and–maybe he did provide cab services of that sort but he took them around. He says, “I don’t want anything. I just want to be. . . I’ll take you anywhere you want to go and it was just for the food and lodging. And lodging is a little easier. You stop at the hotel. You stay with whatever family you have in town or your own family. So they managed to travel many miles to get to the area of western Poland where my uncle met the girl–I guess it was Warsaw where they landed. He brought her to the United States and they got married. Actually he took the dress material to Poland with him.
C. Oh he did! Is that right?
M. To have it made, and the wedding was in Poland. But anyways that–and he lived a happy life.
C. Where did they live then, in Poland?
M. No no. He brought her back; he had a visa for her. I don’t know but what it was a little later that she came; he brought her to Princeton, New Jersey. So they have spread out in the ‘land of milk and honey’, things made out of chocolates. So you look forward to it and you really don’t look at the fear. You just want to know where she was ushered through–I don’t even know whether we stopped at Ellis Island. In my coming to America, Mother and I were ushered through to the train. I don’t know whether we stopped at Ellis Island or not. The train took us to Johnstown, PA.
C. So that’s where you met your father?
M. That’s where I met my father.
C. It must have seemed strange, having lived apart from your father for 10 years, at that age it would seem very strange.
M. Well, there were memories, you know, and letters, so I started to know him that way but to have a memory of him–no, just a picture.
C. Yeah. Well at three years old you wouldn’t.
M. And the pictures in those days weren’t as good as they are today.
C. It’s amazing what they can do with those old pictures now though. Now, this is such a good story I think, about when you took the cows out at your grandparents’ house, out in the pasture and then went to get them. Weren’t you afraid when you did this?
M. No. There’s the need: who’s going to do it? So kids played their role in whatever’s happening, and during the war it was oftentimes that we–if there was a battle raging of some sort they would close the school, so we were available. And being available we took the cows out to pasture; this was a fairly long walk several miles or kilometers or whatever into the hills and then well oftentimes we would spend the night and at my age at that time–I was 8 or 9 or so–or there were maybe 2 or 3 other kids that also came along and so at night to protect ourselves we’d build a fire and have plenty of sticks to build the fire away from the woods and out in the wide open so that when the wolves did come we had the fire and we had burning sticks that would have a flame or whatever on the end of it.
C. Oh and then you could scare them away.
M. You could scare ’em away. We did have wolves. They traveled in packs.
C. Did you have a pack that came close to you?
M. Oh yes. They came around us but they stayed there for a little while and we just huddled by the fire and we had plenty of wood already set up for ourselves so it was an experience that we got through.
C. I’ll say!
M. But anyway, as I said, the shelling started one afternoon and we headed back. That was it.
C. Now was the shelling quite close by?
M. Well the shelling was hitting the woods and we were right up against the woods so we’d move away from there and-uh-wherever they thought they had–there was some guns’ position–oh I guess we must have been oh maybe a mile or so away but we walked right by that position to go to the pasture.
C. Oh dear!
M. Yeah. So they bombarded that and as I said here one of those shells and maybe several came down and when they’d whistle over your head or what not the cow laid down and so did the calf and–hey, maybe they know something, so I had enough sense to go down and the thing hit on top of the little ridge and this was a depression in a little wood, and that time it also hit the house and killed the people in the house.
M. The house was right up against the woods and guns that were firing back were right around there in the woods, well catalogued but open and able to fire out there.
C. Now the guns in the woods, were those German guns or Russian or–
M. In this case that was German. Russians were on the other side, in the other area.
C. So what two armies were shooting these?
M. The Russian and German. In our case we had only the Russian and German armies fighting in the area. The Polish army was in Siberia. (laughs) You know when the Germans passed through our area, and of course it was occupation, but when they passed through they continued on and my cousin who is back in Johnstown now, he used to tell this story, so–well the story is when they went in to Rostow (Russia, Ukraine actually down by the Caspian Sea, or the Black Sea) when the Germans came into town they were heralded as the Liberators and the town–and it’s a big town–the city went out to welcome them, lined the streets and what not–and the Germans opened fire on them, mowing those people down.
C. Oh dear!
M. Talk about atrocities! Why would they do that, I don’t know, especially when they were friendly so that creates the very fierce underground. They needed it to protect themselves.
M. What else can I tell you?
C. Well let me see. When you came to Henry County then you came as an administrator, didn’t you?
C. Did you find any changes in the area, the people or anything from the time when you first came to now?
M. There’s a tremendous difference in the feeling as to how the world feels today as to the United States. At the time back in 1947 anybody that had an accent or was a foreigner was a ‘hunkey’ so certain people would segregate themselves from you. I had a lot of friends. I went to high school and college and that was not a problem but in your own local areas it would be a little more of a problem. That seems to have vanished completely. Now we have radio announcers, TV–we’ve got them from all over the world, with all kinds of worldly names. You have people that–foreign companies owning American companies. You have managers that are foreign in many of the companies, so you have that and that is a major change.
C. And a good one.
M. Well it’s now the uniformity and I think slowly perhaps the rest of the world will be changing as well. Of course this is still a melting pot where the rest of the world–where they’re very nice people but it’s still pretty much one kind. We went to Spain a couple years ago and Spain is Spanish (laughs) but you don’t have the Americans there, well you do have them here and there but there were many Britishers.
C. I remember Hitler had this great idea that he was going to have a pure Aryan race. They were all to be blonde and blue eyes.
M. Well that’s what his military turned out to be, a lot of them, at least as we viewed them when they came through. Anybody else, well they didn’t measure up. They also had to be certain height too, not just blue-eyed blondes. They had no feeling; if something didn’t go their way, they would shoot first.
C. And there were no punishments for them.
M. Well you wouldn’t know what the results were if they were taken away and punished.
C. I see here on this second page of what you have written you are telling what it was like after the war ended. Would you elaborate on that?
M. In the–after the war ended–and of course at that stage it was the Russians there and for some reason the decision was made that Poland was for Poles and they removed all–the Ukranians or other groups of people, and that included the western end as well because the Germans were evicted from this 1000 mile strip. My mother by virtue of her marriage to a Ukranian and even though she was Polish she was Ukrainian in their eyes, and all of these people were taken to the county seat and there to board the train.
C. Your mother included?
M. My mother was there and she had–and the train of course was made up of cattle cars. Did you see ‘Dr. Zhivago’? (laughs) That kind of thing. And they had those all set up–they started loading them and the train was to pull out that evening. Well I didn’t find out about it till a little later and then I was looking for her because I knew she was in town and we found out what the situation was and she says, “You’ve got to get my brother here to vouch for me or I won’t be here.” And she also told me, “Don’t get on the train.” I was a kid. Again, you get away with a lot being small. At that time in the town a lot of the businesses were ravished. They were–you could go into a store and it would have I guess in our case chest-deep in paper. Paper was something was very hard to get in Poland. If you had one tablet you preserved every page of it and wrote on both sides so it was something new for us. “Look at all this paper that we couldn’t get.” and some of those were clean sheets. But this was store by store by store that had a number of these in this center of the town, the market square. Mother told me to “Just follow that road till you get to–Olszanica, then to Stefkowa. So I ran and and walked and ran and walked.
C. How many miles did you have to go?
M. That’s a pretty good distance there, probably–just a guess, I think it took me over two hours to get to the uncles. And so even with all the shortcuts that you take, I got one of them to come with me and I guess he borrowed a horse so we had something to help us to go a little faster, and so we got there in time to get her off the train.
C. Now tell me, you said cattle cars, that’s the kind with the slats on the side. Were the people just all standing up inside?
M. Um-hm. They were crowded in.
C. I’d say that’s pretty scary.
M. Well that’s part of life. That’s part of the procedure. There’s no real care about that. You see that went on throughout Poland because in our area we had cross-pollinated with Ukrainians, the Belarus, of course that’s another one. Of course all of Eastern Poland is on the border of Russia. And you go across and up in Danzig you have the Germans and of course all of Western Poland is German. The new Western Poland is strictly German. All of that was cleared out.
C. “Cleared out”–what do you mean?
M. Of the Germans. It’s now Polish. Polish people took over.
C. Germans go back to Germany.
M. Yeah. And you don’t go there to buy the house; you just assume the house, property. You just move in to the house. So how do you recover your possessions? Only what you take with you. That’s just it.
M. Well, on the surface it seemed harsh but at the same time you were glad you were still alive. (laughs)
C. Horrible war!
M. It was and, you know, everything that’s happening today with Iraq and the others is pretty horrible.
C. Man’s inhumanity to man. When the Russians occupied the town how did they get food and lodging?
M. Well they would be as they came into town they would be marched and knock on the door or whatever and ,”O.K. these two stay here. That one stays somewhere else.” and so you got the whole thing spread out, and every house had one or two. And that’s how they got housing and that’s how they got food. The house provided the food at this particular time when they occupied our town which was, I believe for several months.
The most astounding fact was that the Captain that we had in our house, and we only had one. That captain he, after he got to know the parents and grandparents of mine, he, one Sunday morning he confided–maybe I made a squawk about not going to church or something and anyway he pulled Mother and me aside and said, “Go to church and pray. Today you will hear this Gospel in church.”
C. How did ye know that?
M. He apparently was trained. He did not have a book or anything with him so he must have been trained or whatever, and he told us, “If they found out that I told you so I would be executed.” Religion was not part of anything in which the Russians were interested regardless of what their religion was.
C. Yeah. We read about them stabling horses in church.
M. Yeah. In our case they did not house horses in the church but as I recall I know the church was closed and I know there wasn’t anything–I don’t think they even used the church. There weren’t that many; you know it wasn’t battalions of them coming through. It was just a small contingent there.
C. Interesting stuff! You said that after your mother and you moved to Stefkowa, the Germans were occupying that town. Now was that different from when the Russians were in the other town?
M. Well in this it was occupied but there weren’t that many Germans in this particular instance. What there was, was a contingent of a small squad or two that had an anti-aircraft gun, and that anti-aircraft gun was positioned right against the tallest building in town which was the school house. This was a brick school house and I think it may have had two stories and in setting it up against that it was well camouflaged. There was even a tree next to it, and there was an awful lot of firing from that position. You know, the kids go playing, and I was there a different number of times and often I would bring food home from there.
C. From the Germans?
M. From the Germans. See they had a soup kitchen over there and it happened to be that the schoolhouse was only maybe two city blocks from my grandparents’ house, and they were positioned across the road from the schoolhouse. They didn’t occupy the schoolhouse. The school was closed, see. No school at that time. And our food was in short supply and so I would bring an occasional fruit and even soup from there. I would have a bite or so with them but I took some home. They didn’t mind it. That was O.K. That was extra for them I suppose and so in this case they were very nice as far as we were concerned until the bombardment of the schoolhouse began and the planes came over and–first of all a small plane dumped leaflets all over the place. They just about showered the town.
C. What did the leaflets say? Were they in Russian?
M. They were in the language of the people but the leaflets say something about the–to take cover. There will be bombardment. There is a gun in your town–or something like that–whatever–beyond that but that included at least that much and so when they came in the gun was disabled. The schoolhouse was–well one half of it was destroyed as they had laid a series of bombs across the town.
C. Allied forces?
M. At that point, no. I don’t know that Allied Forces ever got into Poland. It was Russians at this point and they bombarded across the town. Apparently they got some information as to where the gun must have been because apparently only about half of the schoolhouse was destroyed and of course the gun disabled and the German soldiers departed. And that was it.
Now in Poland during the war years there was a great famine. While United States enjoyed the best years, Poland had it tough. While the American Depression was going on Poland had their best years and very fine living at that time but when Hitler and his forces came through…
[No further transcription done. Status of interview tape unknown.]