A family memento – Poland – “Holiday 1939” memories
I. A trip to the Świętokrzyskie Mountains
For about 2 years I have been passionate about cycling. I had a solid “Łucznik” bike well suited to this kind of escapade. I was particularly proud of the Swedish Husquarna drum brake in the rear wheel and the Swedish dynamo in the front wheel hub. It was unusual equipment, obtained thanks to the fact that the father of one of my friends worked at the Kempista company (sewing machines and bicycle parts) and offered me to buy at a reduced, promotional price, the equipment that was just being introduced on the Polish market. The brake worked perfectly and the dynamo did not damage the tire (like all the others) and provided a strong light from the headlight even when driving slowly.
Most often I went on bicycle trips with my friend from secondary school Rey Olgierd, that is “Đzid”, Wilczewski. School activities did not allow us to go on longer trips; At that time, Saturdays were a normal day of work and study, and on Sundays, it was the duty of every student to attend the school service in the church assigned to a given school (for Rey’s gymnasium it was the Carmelite church, and for Czacki’s middle school – the Visitationist church. ).
Dzidek and I took the first longer bike trip during Pentecost in 1939. We went to the property of Dzidek’s relatives (unfortunately I do not remember their surnames, nor the names of the property), which was located close to the border of East Prussia.
It was a great trip – just over 100 km one way. The hosts were very nice and welcomed us so that we had to come back by train to be on time to school.
We then decided that we had to make a real trip during the holidays. We chose the Świętokrzyskie Mountains. None of us knew this region, and we had two lines there: In Kielce, in Karczówka, our friend Staszek Kłopotowski was supposed to be on vacation (at his uncle, the parish priest in the local church), and in Rożnica, in the famous agricultural school, she worked as a teacher for Dzidek’s cousin – Hanka (?) Radolińska.
After the end of the school year, despite our endeavors, there was still something in the way of the planned trip. Our parents were aware of the impending war and were afraid to let us out of the house. They didn’t want to say it openly, so they kept inventing new obstacles. Finally, they agreed that they would simply not give us the money, explaining it with unexpected financial problems. It was hard to believe, especially after the recent high school gifts, but it’s also hard to leave without money.
One beautiful day in July, we cycled out of Warsaw. Our parents only forced us to send a postcard home every other day. In this way, information about our fate will reach Warsaw every day. We adhered to the terms of this agreement and our cards, often sent from sunken holes at the village post office, arrived regularly. Only once or twice, after the day of the break, two more postcards arrived at the same time.
The previously established route led along the Krakow road through Grójec, Białobrzegi and Radom to Kielce, where we were to meet our schoolmate, Staszek Kłopotowski. Driving through Grójec, we wanted to turn to the Odrzywoek estate, only a few kilometers away, and visit our colleague, Wojtek Grobicki, who is a year younger. We gave up, however, knowing that it would have to end in at least a few days’ stay. We were already long behind our plans; so the visit had to be postponed for another occasion. (We did not think that such an opportunity would come in less than two months. We met Dzidek by chance in Odrzywoek, returning at the end of September 1939 from his wartime trips to Warsaw).
It got very hot at noon. So we took a little rest, turning off the road to Pilica in Białobrzegi. We ate a rolling pin we had taken from home and cherries bought for pennies. The road on both sides was planted with fruit trees, mostly cherries. It was just harvest time. Every few hundred meters there were gardeners, or maybe tenants, and they offered wonderful, freshly picked cherries for the price of – I remember exactly – 5 groszy per kilogram. We filled a large (military-prepared) haversack with cherries. We ate terribly. We had to take a little nap to keep going.
There were still about 10 kilometers to Radom, when the storm broke out and it started to pour out of the proverbial rain. There was no house or place to hide by the road. We soaked thoroughly in a minute. Before the war, raincoats for cyclists were unknown (at least I had never seen anything like that). My bike had fenders to protect me from splashing a bit. Dzidek rode without fenders and was not only wet, but thoroughly muddy. Even his face was covered in muddy freckles. Dirty, wet, tired, hungry and cold, we finally drove to Radom. The rain had just stopped falling; it was around 11 PM.
It was hard to find cheap accommodation at this time and in this state. We drove up to the hotel in the market square and, arousing quite a sensation, we asked for a room. We were asked to pay in advance. It was – if I remember correctly – 6 zlotys. We went to wash up and change to our room, then went downstairs to the restaurant where we did a consumption demonstration.
The next day we woke up quite late. It was a beautiful summer day. We checked our cash register and found to our horror that it had decreased by more than 25%. At this rate, we’ll be penniless in three days. We did not plan hotel accommodation in our plans, but the previous day we really did not care for the price, as long as it was dry and warm.
We left without breakfast, it would have been too expensive at the hotel. We stopped in the first town or larger village we met, bought a loaf of bread, butter, cheese, a piece of sausage in the shop and had a royal breakfast literally for pennies.
We were about 80 kilometers from Radom to Kielce. We drove less than yesterday, but we left quite late and the hills started. Our bikes did not have derailleurs and these small hills were a bit of a problem for us. We decided to press the pedals harder to get to Kielce before the evening and not to look for Staszek in the dark. I don’t remember why, but we didn’t manage to get to Kielce before the evening. In any event, we did not have any extraordinary unforeseen obstacles. The weather was fine, the evening was warm. We stopped rushing. We decided to spend the night in the nearest village.
Before we got to it, we met a completely flooded non-commissioned officer – as it turned out later – from the aviation technical service. He stopped us, but in an absolutely friendly mood, told incredibly tangled stories in which it was completely impossible to figure out what was going on. He even fell into euphoria when it came to him that we are students and spend holidays on bicycles. He delivered a fiery speech to the astonished passengers of the passing carts about the wonderful young people who bravely visit their home country and about our aviation, in which such excellent non-commissioned officers as, for example, himself serve.
He doubted a little about our greatness when we firmly refused to drink the rest of the vodka that was still in his bottle. He consoled himself (and us) that “if they take you into the army, they will make you people anyway”. He repeated it several times and after a while he turned back (with only a slight sway) and briskly walked along the dirt road to the side of the road.
The meeting lasted perhaps over half an hour. It was getting late and you had to take care of the accommodation. For this purpose, in accordance with the regulations and customs, it was necessary to report to the village leader, who directed the amateurs of accommodation to one of the houses in the village.
We pressed the pedals and after a few minutes the lights in the windows came out. On one of the first houses we saw a sign “Sołtys”. We entered and it turned out that it was the mayor who was driving the wagon to which our recent interlocutor was giving a speech. We were received very hospitably, given a dinner. After making sure that we did not smoke, we were offered a night in a hay barn. In the morning, an excellent breakfast awaited us: as much milk as we wanted, excellent homemade bread, scrambled eggs with potatoes. The village administrator did not want to hear about the payment, and his wife gave us a huge pin for the road. It should be added here that the mayor’s house was tidy, but it was obvious that the hosts did not overflow and that they had difficulty making ends meet.
We were surprised by the hospitality and wanted to pay back somehow. So we bought a bag of candies in the village shop, returned to the village administrator and gave them to the children. I saw that it was appreciated. We used accommodation in villages many times during this trip. We were always well received, always fed and most often they did not want to accept money from us. We made revenge with sweets for children.
We arrived in Kielce around noon. We were very hospitably received at the presbytery in Karczówka. I remember that during dinner there was a very heated discussion with Staszek Kłopotowski and his uncle – the local parish priest. Unfortunately, I don’t remember what it was about anymore. On the other hand, I remembered the excellent dinner and the priest’s fat hostess, who kept adding to our plates: “because they are almost starving in this city, bachelors”.
We were at Karczówka for two or three days. Our further stay was threatening to spare us. Only Staszek could peacefully spend his holidays there. Despite the intensive fattening for several weeks, he was just as thin as in Warsaw.
Finally, we got to Rożnica, to an agricultural school, where Dzidek’s cousin, Hanna Radolińska, was the teacher. We took a shortcut along dirt roads. We were supposed to save a few kilometers, but in fact it took much longer than expected. First of all, we confused the road, and moreover, part of the selected route was so sandy that it was impossible to drive long stretches and you had to drive bikes. As a result, we reached Rożnica in the dark.
can’t tell much about the agricultural school in Rożnica. I only know that it was a school with a very good reputation and a long tradition, and what surprised us the most, because we did not know it, during the holidays there were internships (or maybe some summer courses) and the school was full of young girls. The vast majority of the “teaching body” was also of the fair sex. We were quite a sensation there and I think that the course of didactic work was somewhat disturbed.
Apart from us, three daughters of one of the teachers, three Miss Kramarzówna, also spent their holidays there. The oldest was about our age. The youngest was probably 13 years old. They were all pretty, but the youngest – she hadn’t quite realized it yet – was exceptionally pretty.
A week, or maybe 10 days, in Rożnica, it was very nice and it was necessary to return to Warsaw. We exchanged addresses and telephone numbers, among others with Miss K. and with backpacks stuffed with a solid pin, we got on the bikes. The next day we were in Warsaw. Of course, all the planned meetings and dates went to hell. War broke out five weeks later.
I met the youngest Miss K. by accident on a tram in Warsaw during the occupation, it was the winter of 1942 to 43. I even remember that it was in Aleje Jerozolimskie on the section between Nowy Świat and Marszałkowska. We met right away and I remember that after a warm greeting, she got confused, cut off the conversation and probably got out earlier than she intended. Even though she did not make the slightest hint, I realized that she is in Warsaw “on business” and – which I expected knowing this milieu – she is very much involved in the underground work. I only found out that she lives with her sister in Krakow, but she did not give me the address. After the war, my assumptions were confirmed; but we never met again.
II. A horse walk
In August I went to Poniatów. Due to the already tense situation, my parents wanted me not too far from Warsaw. Poniatów near Jabłonna was about 35 km from Warsaw. It was possible to come back from poverty on foot.
It was the property of the Grocholski family, an aristocratic family from Podolia, who lost all their possessions and goods in Ukraine (the Pietniczany estate near Winnica). After World War I, they bought the remains of the neglected Poniatów property near Jabłonna. It was once said that it was the family estate of the Poniatowski family. I do not remember how my parents knew the Grocholski family. I guess it was my grandfather Sobolewski’s acquaintance, or maybe even earlier. I don’t remember.
The mansion and farm buildings were somewhat neglected; a garden in a semi-wild state. The owner – Zdzisław Grocholski was a great original. Very tall, slim, handsome. He always wore a hunting outfit – a green sports jacket, breeches, knee-length socks and lace-up boots. He had one glass eye – he lost an eye while preparing hunting ammunition. He was taciturn, though he could be pulled over by memories at times. He told a very interesting story, and he had something to talk about.
His wife (née Sołtan) was extremely nice – walking goodness. She ran a house, looked after the sick in the area, and looked after peasant children. I liked her very much; probably with reciprocity.
The Grocholscy family had (if I remember correctly) ten children. During the summer holidays, her adult daughters Marysia (she died during the occupation) and Helena came there, and the sons Adaś – a year older than me – lived there permanently, Tadeusz – my age – (both were shot by the Germans in Poniatów during the Warsaw Uprising), Jarema – the younger by 2 – 3 years and the youngest – Henryk, who was then 4 or 5 years old.
The summer of 1939 was also spent in Poniatów by the sister-in-law of Mrs. Grocholska, the wife of Major Sołtan, chief of staff of the cavalry brigade, commanded by colonel (later general) Anders, together with her daughter Enia.
Evenings when after dinner all the household members gathered in the huge living room and the elders told various family stories from Podolia, from the times of the Bar Confederation, the January and November Uprisings, the Bolshevik revolution and the 1920 war, stuck in my memory in particular. These meetings always ended in the same way: Pan or Pani Grocholska sat at the piano and the choral singing of Polish folk and military songs and Ukrainian dumkas began. The whole family had excellent hearing and good voices.
In the morning I wandered – most often alone, because the Grocholski boys had other interests – in the fields and numerous groves in the vicinity with a shotgun on my shoulder. I did not like big hunts, with beaten hunting. I hunted mostly wild rabbits, which were plagued by a plague in the area. More than once, I have provided meat for dinner for quite a few household members. I also shot hawks, wild pigeons and magpies, many of which nested in the groves.
From the first contact with a gun, I was a good shooter. In Poniatów I was shooting really well so that Mr. Grocholski allowed me to use his shotgun – a very good FN “twelve”. I liked to show off with far-flung shots at wild pigeons and shooting magpies in dense pine groves “aloud” when the bird is completely invisible behind dense branches.
There were no good horses in Poniatowo and organizing a horse ride was quite complicated. However, such escapades took place several times; usually only two horses.
At the end of the summer holidays, neighbors came to visit Poniatowo; adults in a horse-drawn carriage and young people on horseback. The adults went straight to the master’s office. After welcoming the hosts, the young people suggested a little walk around the area. We joined them together with Enia Sołtan, who rode a horse as if she was born on a horse. She was the daughter of a cavalry officer, brought up in a regiment.
I’ve known Enia for a year and I liked her more and more. She was not particularly beautiful or shapely, but she had an interesting beauty, a wild temper, and she rode a horse better than I did, and she shot almost as well from a flower, a shotgun and the old rebuke of Mr. Grocholski, which I could hardly hold in one hand.
We were the same age, but Enia seemed much older than me and treated me like … a younger brother.
For the horseback trip I mentioned, I put on new breeches and long boots – a gift from my father for my “high school diploma”. So far I have been riding in borrowed pants (probably Adaś), because I felt sorry for my elegant light-colored gabardines. I was riding on an old, not very clean saddle, and the horse was not as clean as it should be. Enia was outraged by this, although she tried not to show it out of kindness to the hosts. She did not always succeed.
The guests came on great horses, they were smartly dressed, so it had to be kept in style. One of them – older than me, maybe eighteen – began to assist Eni very clearly. I tried to prevent him from doing so, but Enia ignored me. She clearly enjoyed the hopping of the little fake.
After several fruitless attempts to change this situation, I decided to “take my revenge”. There were two ladies among the guests: a young married woman and a girl slightly older than me. I rode up to her, to which her former companion immediately departed – I think with a sigh of relief.
We started talking. The lady turned out to be quite nice, she was doing very well on the horse. Her two older brothers had been mobilized the previous day. I had no idea that the situation had become so aggravated that there was mobilization in the country. She was very worried about them. War would break out any day, she said. It wasn’t still getting to me.
We drove through sand dunes, like many in the vicinity of Jabłonna. As she descended a small but steep hill, the girth of her saddle shifted. I jumped off the horse and helped pull it up. It took a while, because the horse clearly did not like this procedure. At this point, she came to the edge of the Enia dune. She called me out. I could tell from the voice that she was furious.
In a tone that could not stand any objection, she suggested (demanded?) That I should trade with her for a horse. This proposal surprised me a lot, because her horse was much better than mine and she said many times that although she does not use regimental horses, she likes to ride it.
I shortened the stirrups on my saddle and led my horse to her. She gave me her reins, waited for me to adjust the stirrups for myself, jumped on the saddle and started at a gallop shouting: we are going to the meadow behind this rag, we will do races there. I was surprised by this proposal, because her horse (and now mine) was much better and she had no chance in the race.
I galloped after her, thinking how to gently hold my horse so that it would not be visible and to give her a chance. Without it, I have to win by at least a few lengths.
A small stream was flowing through the field – quite deep in places, but so narrow that it was easy to jump over it. Enia steered her horse towards where it spilled into a rag 20-30 meters wide and literally ankle deep. Reaching the dump, Enia slowed down, drove a walk into the middle of the dump, and was clearly waiting for me.
I also slowed down, not wanting to splash it, went on a walk and as I pulled the reins, before I could see what was going on, my brave horse lay down and started rolling in the water. It’s good that I managed to take my legs out of the stirrups.
The water in this place was very shallow, but it was enough for me to wet my new breeches thoroughly, to pour water on my shoes and to thoroughly wet the saddle pad and saddle.
Enia looked worried and regretted: “I completely forgot that this horse, when he feels the water, always lies down; it must not stop. You had to go at a gallop. ”
I came home wet and furious. Mrs. Grocholska noticed my lack of humor and talked to me several times at dinner. I changed clothes for supper, of course, and there were no traces of my adventure.
In the evening, Mrs. Grocholska “accidentally” met me in the corridor and asked Mr. Grocholski to come to the office. She smiled at me and said in an even more sympathetic way than usual: don’t be angry with Enia, she did a bit of a cavalry joke on you, but she’s very stupid now and has just admitted that she couldn’t bear to fawn Miss X any longer. I was looking at her with an expression not very wise, because I heard: “well, what are you waiting for, Enia wants to apologize to you, she is on the porch. She really likes you, and I like you too. ” To her surprise, I think, I kissed her on both cheeks and ran out onto the porch.
A piano could be heard from the open windows of the living room. It was the lady of the house who played the youth to dance. You have to come back, I heard, it is not appropriate that we should be gone that long. We entered the living room with the last bars of the waltz “On the slopes of Manchuria” (she liked to play it very much). She smiled at me, shook her finger at Eni, and imperceptibly turned into Boston (English waltz) from the old waltz. I know that she didn’t like this rhythm, but she knew that I liked it very much and that we had a great time dancing English waltz with Enia.
The next day, a field airfield for the fighter squadron was organized in Poniatów. A few days later, urged by a telegram from my parents, I returned to Warsaw by train. Late in the evening I came from the Gdańsk train station by taxi through the darkened city to the house on Miodowa. The next day the war started.
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