Ryszard Gaik

* 1936  

  • "The late summer of 1939, September, I think. No, it wasn’t… it was August; Dad came home, he was pale, and he showed us a letter. He was summoned to the district command in Kolomyia. He was supposed to get there in two days. How, why… We were not sure what for, but he was told to go there. And it also said that it would be for an extended period of time. Given that, Dad packed our things together with Mum. And we went to our grandma in the countryside, because if this was for an extended period of time, nobody knew what that would mean. It was a really busy time. The 1st of September, war. Surprisingly, even in Pokucie, we saw enemy planes. From the east and from the west – we could clearly see that these were planes with the Soviet star. Something started going on. 1st September – war. Of course, the entire country was in fear. We could hear that because some people had radios. Grandpa also had a radio. We listened to the radio and heard that the Germans had already taken over part of Western Poland, and they were already near Warsaw."

  • "Dad was handcuffed, with his hands on his back, and his face was different. He was beaten up; there were bruises and blood clots. Meaning he had been interrogated. And Dad saw Mum and nodded that it was bad. Well, they noticed it right away; they pulled my mum away. Of course, they were all guarded. That was the last time mum saw her husband, our dad. We had no idea what happened next. We did not know where they were, whether they held them somewhere locally or had taken them away. On 8th January 1940, we get an original postcard from Ostashkov: “My dearest, I am in the camp in Ostashkov. I’m doing very well, how are my children doing? I miss them so much; I miss you so much. I love you so much. At the end. Trust that I’ll be back”. Of course, that was a lie; it was not true at all. “I’m doing very well” – who could be doing well there? We have heard a lot of different things. And that was the last time we heard from our dad."

  • "It was incredibly, incredibly hard. Hunger, diseases, various insects were eating us up. Anyway. Insects I am not going to list, on eyelids, in our ears, all over our heads, under armpits, everywhere. And all the straw on the floors. Well, in the summer, it was a bit better because when it was summer, we threw that straw and sawdust out, and we padded this floor with… let’s call it, grass. And this changed a lot, and it was somewhat more pleasant. And it was going on for a while. The winters were the worst because there was nothing to burn in the winter. (…) We went to the Turpak family, who offered us sympathy. Mrs Turpak had three adult sons, they were very musical, and they were drafted as well. She could not cope with that, and she liked to talk to our mum. And mum always comforted her, even though she was in a difficult situation herself, but she always told her: “Don’t worry, your sons will come back, the war will end.” And she said: Gala, how do you know, and someone told mum – take the cards and tell her fortune. Somebody there had cards."

  • "One day, the time had come, and we got on a train to Zgorzelec. We were put on that train, and we went through Wrocław. In Wrocław, the train stopped at the main station, and people got off. And they said – “Where are you going? Why are you going to Zgorzelec? Wrocław is a big city! Get out!” And we had Zgorzelec on our evacuation card, and we got off in Wrocław. And what about Wrocław… There was an information point in Wrocław, it was very well-organised, it was all very interesting. It turned out that there was this Repatriation Office on Paulińska Street, and they told everybody to go to this Repatriation Office, the State Repatriation Office. And we got there, through the ruins of Wrocław – it was all destroyed at the time. So, we got there, and we were admitted to the State Repatriation Office, even though we were supposed to go to Zgorzelec, but somehow, we managed. We were little kids, mum started crying and pleading, and they let us stay. We were there for… I don’t know, 2-3 weeks, maybe 2. Anyway, we waited because Poles were given flats here in Wrocław. One day, we were given a flat in Kowale (…). Well, one day before Christmas, they packed us on a truck with three families."

  • "I remember everything was reduced to rubble. I have to say that they drove us from Paulińska Street to Kowale for almost two hours because they drove us over the rubble, over everything. And the fighting started because it took us two hours to get there. The road there was covered with ruins. Some of the buildings were still smouldering. There was smoke and a nasty smell everywhere. The Grunwaldzki Square was turned into a big market square, the Plunder Square. It stretched from Grunwaldzki Square all the way up to Grunwaldzka Street, and there was rubble everywhere. And people came there from all over Poland and traded everything they had. And everything could be exchanged; it was all about exchanging goods. For example, my mother and her neighbours would go from Kowale to Grunwaldzki Square and take things from our house left behind by the Germans to exchange for some flour, sugar or bread, because we had no money, so she would take some porcelain, some paintings. Whatever she could find. And then she would exchange them. There were people, traders from all over Poland, and they would take everything. They brought some butter or sugar or water or other things – foodstuffs in general, and they would exchange them. That’s what it looked like after the war, but the rubble was everywhere. Not enough. Not enough yet."

  • "There weren’t any conflicts there, not until the war started (...). At that point, everything changed. And what’s more, we had a Ukrainian friend - Fiodor, he was older than us. He would come to us, and he helped us a lot. He was a boy from the village, and we had good relations with these Ukrainian farmers. It wasn’t until the war started that. Only then this tragedy began. Only then they started the conflict with us."

  • "And I have to say (...) there were a lot of Jews in Święty Józef and Korszów. Święty Józef was a big village. There were five stores – that’s a lot for a village, there was a school, a monastery, a church, a municipal office. It was a big village. There were people of other nationalities there, too. Ukrainians, of course. And we all lived in harmony. There were no divisions or rifts between us until the war. Not only that, when we lived in Korszów, there were a lot of Jews there. They ran their businesses, restaurants, some other things, tailoring and so on. So, we used their services all the time. There was this Jew, he had a restaurant, his name was Mociek, that’s what they called him. We used to go dine at Mociek’s restaurant. (...) I remember that he made amazing, pickled herring, and dad really liked this marinated herring. And he would always say: Felek, come for a herring today. And dad would sometimes take all of us, and we’d go for that herring. And Felek, take another one because I brought a new one here. I brought it, and I made it especially for you."

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    Wroclaw, 05.08.2021

    (audio)
    duration: 02:46:38
    media recorded in project Inconvenient Mobility
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First they deported us to Kazakhstan and then expelled to Silesia

Gaik Ryszard, Wroclaw, 2021
Gaik Ryszard, Wroclaw, 2021
photo: Post Bellum

Ryszard was born on 1 January 1936 in the region of Pokuttya (Pokucie, southeastern Galicia), which was then part of Poland and today belongs to Ukraine. His father Felix Gaik was employed as a policeman in the village of Korszów, where the family lived. The situation changed after Poland was invaded by Germany on 1st September 1939 and the USSR on 17th September 1939. Pokkuttya was under the occupation of the Soviets, who arrested Ryszard´s father and deported the rest of the family, Ryszard along with his mother and older sister, to today´s Kazakhstan. Under harsh conditions they had to survive there until 1944, when the Poles with legal documents were allowed to leave. Although they did not posses the documents, they managed to leave, first to Kyiv and then in autumn 1945 to Lviv. The city did not belong to Poland any more, the family was granted evacuees´ IDs where the city of Zgorzelec/Görlitz was mentioned as final destination. As they did not know where Zgorzelec was, they got off the train already in Wroclaw (Breslau). Both Wroclaw and Zgorzelec were on a former German territory, gained by Poland after WWII. Around Christmas 1945, the family was granted a flat in Wroclaw, whose German inhabitants had to vacate it. Ryszard Gaik studied at the Wroclaw Polytechnic University and worked on leading positions in the automotive industry, although he was not a cummunist party member. It was not before the fall of the communist regime that the family learned the truth about the fate of their father - he was killed in the scope of the Katyń massacre in 1940 in the Russian prisoners´ camp Ostashkov.