|Deportees during Operation Vistula, 1947.|
After reading the articles concerned with Operation Vistula in 'Przegłąd' issue (20/2012) I cannot help but feel that these texts were written on the orders of politicans. I write these words in the knowledge that they will provoke a hostile reaction from many of my compatriots. Nonetheless, I would like to try to explain my controversial point of view.
My father, Grzegorz, was born into a Polish-Ukrainian family but he considered himself to be a Pole. In those days the goverment officials responsible for matters of nationality maintained a policy in which boys of mixed marriages would inherit their father's nationality whilst girls would inherit the mother's. My father lived near Przemyśl. He was fluent in both Polish and Ukrainian and he was not ashamed to to speak in the latter, even though his neighbours often made fun of him for doing so. In the Przemyśl region there were many mixed marriages. Both nationalities lived together peacefully and nobody gave much attention to the issue of nationality. As well as Poles and Ukrainians, there were Jews, Lemkos and Tatars. After the war everything changed. Ukrainians began to be seen as second-class people, worthy of disdain. The fate of my father was decided by various factors. Firstly, he had a friendly attitude towards other nationalities (something which he had inherited from his father) and secondly he married a Ukrainian woman, something which in the post-war years was beginning to be seen as treacherous behaviour. I also add that when war broke out my father was mobilised and served in the Polish Army, fighting in the Silesian Beskids.
|Camp at Jaworzno. It started life as a German concentration camp and was then used by the Communist authorities as a labour camp. During Operation Vistula many Ukrainians were detained here.|
I have many memories of the situation in the borderlands. I remember strangers approaching our house at night and shouting at our mother and grandmother, asking to speak to the children, my older sister and I. I recall the fear we felt of the 'night people' and the mix of regret and shame I felt when our neighbour called her son home with the words "Kazik! Don't play with Marysia, she's a Ukrainian" or when she called the adults 'bandits'. I remember how Father Bronisław Marszałek pointed to the east during mass and said "Ukrainians! There is your road to the Ukraine!" The same priest had given me my first communion. That was how the border was after the war. People who committed crimes against the Ukrainians had given themselves the right to take the law into their own hands by 'cleaning the neighbourhood of rebellious scum.'
For my family May 1947 proved to be worse than anything which had come before during the war. My father was in the custody of the UB (Secret police-CK) in Przemyśl and was later sent to a camp in Jaworzno. Nobody told us that he had been transferred, my mother only found out on the grapevine. No charges were ever brought against him but he was regulary beaten by the camp guards. After he came home in January 1948 he sometimes told us about his ordeal in the camp, although he had been warned to remain silent. He said that the guards at Jaworzno had pictures of skulls on their caps...Our father came home with a fractured skull.
While my father was in prison my mother recieved a letter from the authorities ordering us to leave our home immediately. We had a few hours to pack up. Nobody cared that my mother was heavily pregnant at the time. A wagon with all our belongings stood on the communal pasture with other wagons and carts. Bedding, clothing and a few other possessions were guarded by our grandfather during the night. My mother, sister and I were allowed to sleep in the house. In the morning we were due to travel into the unknown with other families. However, during the night my mother gave birth and we were permitted to stay.
We did not stay for long. 2 years later, on November 1st 1949 we were again ordered to leave our home and were told to go to the Przemyśl Bakończyce railway station. Our parents and the 3 of us (10 year old Natalia, myself aged 9 and 2 year old Marysia) were put into a livestock wagon along with our horse and cow-- our only livelihood. The journey lasted several days. It is hard to say how long exactly but it must have been at least a week. The wagon was at once a stable, a barn and a house. For me at the time it was all one big adventure, I had never been on a train before. I stood at the open door watching the passing houses, trees and fields. My parents, on the other hand, were worried sick.
Nobody saw to it that we had enough to eat, or that our animals had fodder and water.
Finally, we arrived in Nidzica (NE Poland-CK). In the middle of the night they ordered us to get moving, despite the darkness. Every now and then a house would appear, we would stop and one family would start unpacking and the rest would move on. Eventually we arrived at a small village, similar to our own Hermanowic. Our wagon stopped in front of one of the houses and our 'guard' ordered the people living inside to make space for us in one of the rooms. There were 8 of us in one room. My family accounted for 5 people and there was also a young single woman and a young couple without children. In the morning it turned out that in the other 2 rooms there lived 4 people. They were Belarussians who had been deported from the Białystok region. Kind, honest, good people. With their help my parents were able to sort out a room in the attic and that way we managed to create our own little private space. My father was completely broken down. He spent all day lying on the bed and crying. He could not understand why he had been treated with such meanness, why the authorities had decided to treat him like a bandit.
|A plaque in Polish and Ukrainian which commemorates the deportation of the Lemko minority.|
In late spring or early summer we managed to take over a small house, thanks to its previous owner Mr. Chojnowski. There was 1 room with a kitchen. The second room was in need of renovation and was uninhabitable. This was far from the 'luxury' which some apologists calim awaited the deportees. Many of the floorboards were so rotted that they would break even under the weight of a child.
Contrary to what some claim, deportees were not given the chance of a better, more prosperous life. We didn not have our own home, there was no work. Opertion Vistula was carried out in a chaotic, random and disorganised manner. Its only objective was to weed out 'inferior' citizens of Communist Poland and dump them in the north of the country. Thanks to the operation the government aquired the houses necessary to acommodate the 'colonists'-- Poles who had been deported from the USSR. Nobody tried to hide this fact. My parents remembered how a woman showed our house to her sister, explaining that it would soon be vacant and ready for her to move into. They did not care that my mother was present and able to hear every word. They did not care that she would go out of her head with worry about what would happen to us.
Operation Vistula did not only affect Ukrainians but also Belarussians and, as the case of my father shows, other inhabitants of the border region. One thing is clear: it was an act of revenge for the crimes carried out by the UPA and OUN, with whom my family and the majority of deportees did not have any contact. In fact, we condemned their actions. The policies of the Polish government only served to increase the idiotic nationalist chauvinism on both sides. It served nobody.
Author: Bohdana Czeluśniak with the help of her daughter Kamila Jasiak Taken from 'Przegłąd' magazine.