Zofia Ciesielska

* 1931

  • "They bolted the door. Of course, nobody was allowed to go out. There were four tiny windows on each side of the plank beds. And the train pulled out. What do I remember? First of all, I remember Polish families... Only women and children. My 17-year-old brother was one of few man there. And he was considered a grown-up. There was another boy, about two years older. I remember his name - Piotr Polak. Maybe he will see this video. He and my brother were made the so-called "starszynas," that is, those responsible for the organization of the car. For now they were left in peace. They had something to do only later, when we were issued water and food. But this happened later. I cannot say how long the stopover in Lvov was, but it took some time to reload us. The train pulled out. But in Lvov and after the train pulled out from the junction station, and from some other station, whose name I cannot remember, we could see many similar trains. It was a mass deportation. People started outshouting one another through the tiny windows, "Where from?"From Sambor. From Drohobycz. And you from where?"And the names?" And mom heard her sister's name, who lived in Sambor. And the aunt was indeed deported. She was also in Kazakhstan, but in Oktiubinska Oblast. I remember the dramatic moment of crossing the border on Zbrucz. Of course, singing, prayers, litanies to Virgin Mary, crying. But in a few hours we started getting hungry. No water to drink, no nothing. Some managed to take some food with them. We were not precautious enough and we did not take much. I remember a small bag with lump sugar that we took by accident. And these lumps of sugar were the only food during the first hours of the journey. After some time, at night, the train stopped. They called the "starszyna" and my brother and this other boy went out. They returned after some time. Of course, we were terrified. Because who knows? They could take them some place else. You could never be sure what they would do. And they returned at night and they brought sacks of something. We did not know what it was. Some lumps of something. It was dark. Somebody stroke a match. Is it soap? We waited till morning, just in case. It turned out that these lumps were cold millet. Somehow I can remember this first meal. I do not remember the next ones. I only remember that we were hungry. We could hear the rattle of the train for days on end. Great, terrible uncertainty. I remember crossing the Volga. When the train has come further into Russia, they let us make a gap in the doors. There was a kind of stick, a staple, and you could move it and make a gap. And some of the younger ones stood by the door and looked out. But at least we had some fresh air. Because there were only tiny windows. I cannot describe the stuffiness and stench. We never left the car. There were also some people with little children; elderly people. In the middle there was a heater, but we had no wood to heat it up. So it was cold. It was April, but nights were cold. I remember the moment when we crossed the Urals. I was looking through the gap in the doors. We were terrified that we were already in Asia. The journey lasted two weeks. Suddenly the train stopped. It would not go any further."

  • "Soon after the outbreak of the Russian-German war comes the Sikorski-Mayski Agreement and we find out that we had become Polish citizens and we had a right to move. Not too far, only within the district, but still there was the law. And then my brother went to this podkhoz. He and my sister found employment there, and soon after they could move there. And of course, another dugout; the worst possible. On the outskirts of this podkhoz, half-demolished. It also had two rooms. The other room was occupied by a lady from Poland, with 2 small children. And my brother works at haymaking. He does all the hardest jobs. Mommy gets a job making "kizyak," which is fuel made of cow dung. And it was delivered to the authorities. Making it was quite an undertaking. I stole bricks of "kizyak" quite many times. But our major fuel was dried cow pies. I did not work then, so my task was to walk on the steppe and collect them. We collected them very painstakingly, because it was fuel. It was glowing. It was very precious fuel. The Russians, especially the authorities, had only one answer for us, "Nieczewo, prywykniesz. A nie prywykniesz, to podolhasz"."

  • "Spring of 1942. I turned eleven, as we know. So I was regarded as a person who must go to work. And this order was enforced in the following way: they stopped issuing the 200 gram of flour seed or seed. Sometimes it was seed, sometimes flour. They gave what they had. It did not matter, for it was still food. And I had to go to work. My first job, and I was only 11, was at the felling. Threes were neither thick nor tall. Birch groves and pine forests. But still somebody had to fell the threes. There were two men. A Kyrgyz, a Kazakh. And boy about 17, because he was not in the army. I remember their names. That Kazakh's name was Kasymow, and the boy's name was Fiedka. And I went to the forest with them. There was a division of duties. I do not know who came up with it. They felled and I was given an axe and had to cut the branches. And I was a small, thin girl. I kept dropping the axe on the ground. They finished their work in no time, sat on the stumps and cackled. And I was having a hard time with the branches. I will never forget it. It was my first job in this podkhoz."

  • "At the end of April, out of the blue, we get a message. Mommy has to go to the director of the "detdom," by a beautiful Polish surname Dubrowski. In two days we leave for Poland. Exactly on the anniversary of our arrival there. They took us on 13 April and we stopped in Kustanay on 28 April. And we are to leave on 28 April. Incredible coincidence. Exactly six years in Kazakhstan. Just as mommy found out about it, she came to our dugout and says, "Zosia, do to podkhoz, to Jadzia. We are leaving. Tell her to leave everything without asking. We are going to Poland." I run barefoot across the steppe, I am in the forest near "detdom," and I can see Jadzia coming. She found out too, left everything and ran to us. We did not have any baggage, because of the whole journey, various transfers... But we had a green, velvet, flowery bedspread from Poland. This was all we had. It was the only thing we took to Poland. Mommy put some other things into it, tied it, and it was our whole baggage."

  • "Straight away, the Soviets started to organize things as they saw fit. Many people were threatened or got arrested. The material situation quickly got worse. Many products were in short supply. Everybody knows about all this so I will return to the personal matters. Soon after the beginning of the Soviet occupation of the town, the Soviets started to quarter the NKVD functionaries in local apartments. An NKVD functionary - I do not remember his rank - moved into our apartment. then he made us move into the room and he occupied the rest of the apartment. Finally after a few weeks he threw us out of the apartment, out of the town. He had said that if my parents did not find a place in 24 hours, he would throw us and our belongings into the street. Earlier was walked round the apartment pointing at paintings and saying, "The painting and carpet are mine, and this is mine too. Bring it to my room." I remember that my father was upset or depressed. The functionary asked him in Russian, "What's up with you?" And daddy said, "I have been working for all this for forty years." "So what," the functionary said. "You need to start over"."

  • "After the Agreement Polish government delegate's offices where set up. In Borowoje there was also one. Mommy became an intermediary and she sometimes contacted them. Once or twice she got some things. I remember that once she got black ankle boots. It was a grand event. And the size was quite small, so I got them. We had no shoes. We walked barefoot in spring and summer.That winter the frost was so severe, that without Russian felt boots feet immediately got frostbitten. But to buy a pair you had to have money. It was impossible to buy new ones. Mommy bought used, patched-up ones. My bother had to have a pair to go to work, and we all used the other pair. Who left the dugout, put them on, because he was the only one to work in winter. So these felt boots were huge, When I was delighted when I saw these pretty ankle boots. But this lasted only one fall. Next spring my feet were too big.Some other child got the boots. The joy was short-lived. The boots were just a kind of interlude."

  • "It is 1942. We still have Polish citizenship. But suddenly we find out that we will be citizens of the Soviet Union again. Because the bad Polish Government, which they had trusted so much, broke an agreement with them and took its army outside the USSR. This government full of fascists and imperialists does not want to fight. And we are once again "vragi naroda" - enemies of the state. And we will get Soviet citizenship again. But we did not simply get it just like that. Each person above sixteen, so in our family only mom, has to sign documents stating that he or she accepts it. And they take whole groups of Poles to the NKVD in Borowoje and they give them two options: either you accept Soviet citizenship, or you go to prison or to a labor camp. As we all know today, many went to labor camps and prisons and many never came back. But here there were only women and children. A dramatic question: What should we do? There was an unwritten rule, that young people do not sign, and they go to prison. Mothers sign it, because their children need their care. Otherwise children will go to orphanages and will be denationalized. Mom also went to Borowoje. And I remember that dramatic night of waiting. Fortunately, sister did not need to go. It was March. But they continued issuing passports throughout April. So mommy went there and somebody had to put her up. She could not walk 40 km. Besides, she had to wait 1 or 2 days at the NKVD. But we were waiting anxiously. Will mommy come back? Will she sign it? We were not sure. We did no know how they would propose it. Maybe she will say, "I will not sign it. It is out of the question."

  • "We experienced something memorable at the station in Baranowicze. It was May, out train stopped and our whole group run to a church. Somebody said, that there was a church where "May Liturgy" was celebrated. And all the young people ran to this church. When we entered the church and the priest greeted us. He said he could tell we were coming back from Russia. We started crying. And suddenly someone shouted out, "The train is leaving!" We ran out of the church, ran to the train. Fortunately, it was only transferred onto a different track. We had been so scared that they could have left without us! We would have stayed there without documents. On this, I need to say it, on this damned side. It is damned for me. I lost there everything dearest to me: my house, parents, brother."

  • "My parents, devoid of some of the most important things, moved to the suburbs, where we lived until April. And on the night of 10 April we heard banging on the door. Since this moment I have not forgotten anything connected with the Soviets. 5 armed men came in the dead of night to arrest my father. I had not heard anything about my father since that night, until 1995 when I found his name on the Ukrainian list of the Katyn victims. It turned out that he was arrested under the order issued on 5 March 1940. Being a civil servant - a highly dangerous element, who hated the Soviet Union, he deserved capital punishment. The next night was peaceful. Of course, during the day mommy was looking for father in court, in prison. We were terrified. And the next night came. The night of 12 April. Early in the morning we hear banging at the door again. There were five armed men, two or three in NKVD uniforms, the rest in some navy blue uniforms - these were local Ukrainians. There were three of us: my 17-year-old bother, a high-school student, my 12-year-old sister, and me - 9 years old. They stood in the doorway, and mom shouted, "Jesus! They came for Adam!" That is for my bother. Because young boys were also being arrested. But it turned out that they came for all of us. That said only, "Collect your things!" And I remember that I burst into tears. I did not cry when they were taking my father, but here the horror was intensifying. Because then I was still convinced that daddy would soon come back. I was crying and they.... Then I began to get to know their lies. Because one of them said to me, "A ty czeho placzesz? Nie choczesz do batka jechaty?" In Ukrainian. "Why are you crying? Don't you want to go to your father?" He said we were to go to Ploskirow, where daddy was waiting. And I must confess that I calmed down. I remember this feeling that I would go anywhere to see daddy."

  • "We stayed in this leskhoz only briefly. and after some time, about two or three weeks they said that this was only temporary and that we were to live permanently in the so-called "cordon." We got separated from Mrs Boguchwalska. Me, mom and sister went to "cordon." It turned out that this "cordon" was a set of... How should I put it? It was not a settlement. There were 5 or 6 dugouts. One dugout had four rooms. The other ones had two rooms each. Each room had a separate entrance. And in the best house, maybe made of wood, there lived the forester, since there were some groves of birches. And we were cast there, left entirely to our own fate. And my brother was ordered to work. It is hard to imagine. They simply took you to haymaking. My mommy and sister had to go too. They went "na pasznie," as they called it. I was often alone because they were busy working in steppe. After a short time spent in the "cordon," it turned out, that the dugout we were given, where we lived, - this time we were alone in the room - was in a state of ruin. When it was raining the water was gushing in like from a strainer. Mommy and Jadzia, that is my sister, brought over some clay. They put it onto the roof using buckets. It ended like this that my sister got seriously ill."

  • "Suddenly news come. It is 1942. And in this podkhoz there were 3 other men the age of my brother Adam. One was a year older, one was younger, but there were three of them. "Povestki," notifications come to this office. And Adam is devastated. The other 3 got drafted but he did not. A great tragedy. They are going to the army and he is not. He does not why. Mommy told him, "I told you not talk so much." Because he was always very valiant. So maybe it was the reason. And the day comes when these Poles are about to go to the army. And when Russians went to the army, their families had a day off, and saw them off, drove them off in sledges. It was winter of 1942, hard frost, February. He is not at home. Maybe he is with these friends. And we are in our room, when he storms in and says, "I am going!" Mommy says, "So we will see them off too." And he is holding a paper and says, "I also got drafted. The call-up papers were taken to the wrong kolkhoz. I am going too." The others at least had 1 or 2 days for preparations, for saying good-bye. We had not known he was to go. We are happy that he will fight in the Polish army, but it happened so soon. So we put on some coats and go to see him off. He had some rusks for the journey. We prepared something, but not much. He got dressed and needs to go because the others are leaving. And the sleigh is waiting behind the stables. We went there with mommy. He was so happy. He gets on the sleigh. The sleigh pulled out. The steppe was so white. We were standing there but then mommy walked after the sleigh. As if she knew she would not see him again."

  • "Mommy said that I should go to a Russian school. This was the end of March, the beginning of April. For starters I went to the 5th grade. I was 14 years old. Luckily for me, the school year ended at the end of May, so in April they were revising the material. There was not really much competition. I caught up pretty quickly, but I could not sit at the desk. It was extremely tiring for me. Because when I was a small girl, I had to do manual labor, I felled trees, weeded, had muscle pain. I got used to manual labor, and now I had to sit for a few hours. I had huge problems with that. But after some time I got to like learning. I caught up and I have the report card till this day. There is an interesting story connected with this. I was the only one to have straight As on my report card. It was called "otlichnitsa." If you had As and Bs, it was an "udarnica." I have this report card with the Kazakh SSR coat of arms. At the end of the school year mommy went down with malaria. She was seriously ill. At night I ran to a paramedic to get quinine. Mommy had a high fever. Malaria is horrible. At a given hour you get shivers and fever. I am alone with mom. And there is the end-of-the-school-year ceremony. And they read out that I have the best school report among all fifth-graders. And the is a prize: a blouse. Moreover, all the best students will get 250 grams of sweets. But there will be no blouse for now, because they do not have it. But they gave us sticky sweets stuffed with marmalade, in a paper wrapping. My God! I saw sweets for the first time in five years. And I still remember how I ran home to my sick mom, with these sticky sweets stuffed with marmalade, in a paper wrapping. I wanted to bring them to my seriously ill mommy. They were worth a lot. And of course, I wanted to share them with Jadzia. It was great joy."

  • "We had to pack in one hour. My mother was trying to fight this order. I remember all this very vaguely. There were some sacks... We were lucky that we had recently been evicted, and in the basket, before the war there were baskets for bed linen, there were some things. And we took it. The things inside the basket helped us a lot over the first years. It was simply bed linen. And my mother would sell the white one, made of the so-called pre-war "dymka." Women used to make blouses out of these white pillowcases. Or she exchanged them for food. But this happened later. In the courtyard there was a truck. They packed us into it. But a strange thing happened: we sat in this truck from 3 a.m., till about 7 a.m. So that the whole motorcade would not go to the railway station. And so the truck pulled out at about 7 a.m. At the station there already were freight cars full of people. We were put into one. There were plank beds on two levels. The upper beds, next to barred windows, had already been taken. We got the lower ones, onto which you had to slip horizontally. We were packed there and I cannot remember how long we were waiting at this station in Drohobycz. But in Lvov the stopover was longer, because they had to reload us. Of course, the inside of the new cars looked the same. We got the lower plank beds, squeezed on the bottom. It is hard to say how many people were there. These were standard freight cars. I think that about 70 people were inside. About 30 on each side. When they put us into these final freight cars, some workers came with saws, hammers and axes, and they cut out a hole in the middle of the car. They made a kind of pipe from four planks, and they said, "Wot, wasza uborna." "This is your toilet." It was one of our numerous dramas. For the journey lasted, as it turned out, two weeks; so many people and only one "toilet”."

  • "Because when it was still warm, still summer, mommy went these 20 km both ways, on foot, to Borowoje and brought some news. There were some Poles. We were unlucky. I do not know if there were more people who got deported so totally alone. The authorities did not help us at all. There were no jobs which would bring you any money. We had to work in the "cordon" in exchange for the dugout. There was no mention of any salary. Nearby there were some groves of tress in the steppe, so there was a forester. These forests were very poor. Only pines and birches. Only three species of trees. As a naturalist I can say that there were only pines, birches and aspens. And my brother and sister had to work in winter. They had to climb pines and pick cones to get seeds. And they had to do it. It was dangerous to climb trees, they did not know how to do it. But they had to. Nobody asked them. Such was the first winter. And at night they sometimes had to go and simply steal some wood for the stove. Because we had to warm the dugout up. This first winter was very dramatic. We were surprised by snow storms, by the so-called "burany." They were attacking us the first winter, but they were not as bad as the following winters, when we had to work."

  • "Transporting was the hardest kind of job. Even today persons who were deported to Siberia know that at first only Russian men did it. When they went to the army, Polish men did it. And then, when there were no Polish men, young girls, women had to do it. Including my sister. Three days one way, three days the other. It was always in winter, when there was heavy frost. Ox-driven sledge. Each person has to look after 2 pairs of these bulls. You need to keep walking, because if you sit on the sledge, you freeze. Minus thirty, forty degrees. Plus wind. The worst moment is when a "buran" comes. You can never know when it comes. Yes, the infamous buran in the steppe is the worst thing that can happen. This intense, great snowstorm on the endless plain. You cannot see further than one meter. Such group frequently died of the so-called "white death." They were terrified, because they could have gotten buried under snow. The bulls also did not want to walk, they rebelled against it. So when the "buran" was really extreme, they put all the sledges into a square. I cannot say how many there were. It depends how many people they managed to collect. And this transport was like a caravan, this comparison occurred to me just now, like a caravan in winter that transports goods on bulls not on camels. All things, all these haystacks were meticulously loaded onto sledges. I still do not understand why all this had to be so hard. And we were waiting. My 14-year-old sister was considered a grown-up woman. She supported the whole family. And even today, when I talk to her, she has tears in her eyes and she says that when she was walking in this snowstorm she was dreaming about telling her brother all about it. Only he would understand her. He was the only one who went trought this too. But she did not live to this moment, because our brother died in the war. It was her dream to tell Adam. For he would understand her. In turn, me and mom were worried if Jadzia would come back. A "buran" lasted for 3 days and was everywhere in the area. We were praying for a "buran" not to come, when Jadzia was away. Will she come back? Will she die under snow? We were anxious. As a result of working in winter people got frostbitten. Suppurative wounds covered their whole cheeks. There had no medicines. Jadzia's cheeks were covered in scabs. Mom was worried about my sister's future appearance.Then some Russian women advised mommy to use goose fat."

  • "Really, we would not have endured half a year more. I am saying that there was nothing to eat. But you can say, "But you are alive, so you must have eaten something." In spring we collected young, green leaves of nettles. Till this days I do not like spinach, because it reminds of it. And we cooked the nettles like you cook spinach. Or there was something like onion, but we collected only the green stems. Those who were in northern Kazakhstan remember "rizikh." It was a plant that grew on the steppe, in clearings. It had something like small elongated shells. A kind of very narrow, tiny pods. And the seeds from the pods were like half a caraway seed. We cooked this and it had some kind of mucus. These eyes looked like small frogspawn. Tiny eyes with mucus. But we ate it. Probably there was some fiber. I have checked in some botanical books. We called it "rizikh." Who was there, that knows. But I do not know its name. My sister worked in the field. Early in spring she plowed. If she plowed a potato field, even if the potatoes had been carefully collected, she plowed out some that survived the winter. She put them into a small sack at her belt. The peel would come off, but the inside was untouched. I am sorry to say it, but it simply stank. We ground or cooked them. They were still uneatable, so we fried potato pies."

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    Kraków, 06.09.2007

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We still had Polish citizenship, but suddenly we found out that we would be citizens of the Soviet Union again

Zofia Ciesielska
Zofia Ciesielska
photo: Pamět národa - Archiv

Born on 11 February 1931 in Drohobych (Lviv voivodship, Second Polish Republic). Maiden name - Frydlewicz. Her father was a lawyer, her mother a history teacher. Zofia Ciesielska’s father was arrested on the night of 10/11 April 1940, following which he was murdered in Kiev. Two days later the rest of the Frydlewicz family was arrested. They were deported to Kazakhstan, where Zofia Ciesielska as an 11-year-old girl was forced to hard physical labor. In Kazakhstan she managed to finish 5th class of elementary school. Zofia Ciesielska returned to Poland together with her mother and sister in June 1946. She graduated from the biological faculty in Warsaw and since 1954 she had been working as an assistant at the Polish Academy of Sciences. Later on she moved to Cracow to work for the Pedagogical University. Since May 1989 she is a member of the Cracow Siberian Survivors’ Association and since 1995 she belongs to the Association of Katyń Families in Cracow.