Zofia Nastaborska

* 1922  

  • "We passed Swierdlowsk, also without seeing the railway station and we stopped at a tiny station in Nowaya Lala. There some trains were unloaded, but not all of them. Somewhere, there was a place chosen for us, but not for the whole "eshelon," not for the whole transport. Trucks without cabs came and they unloaded us from these freight cars, and then they drove us along a vista, through the forest, to a settlement. There they unloaded us and provided us with accommodation. We were very lucky, because it was in the middle of a great taiga. Deciduous and coniferous trees and rich undergrowth. Huge, primeval forest. In a huge fall, a small village has been constructed. There were already no people there. The huts were very small. Each had two rooms, i.e. there was an entrance on both sides. In each part there was a tiny room, two beds and a table between them and two stools or a wooden stump. These houses were prepared for us. They were clean, tidied up and there was no trace of any dwellers. We did not find even a nail, can, or cloth. Nothing. Everything was sterilely cleaned. The houses were of the same size, built on both sides of a small alley. This alley was actually a sidewalk constructed on wooded poles. This was the only way to move there when there was lots of snow. At the entrance to the hut there was a closet, some kind of pantry. Each farmyard had its own outdoor toilet. They were keen on hygiene, so the toilet was quite far away from the hut, which at minus 40 degrees made it difficult to use it. At the hut there was a lawn and small fields which had been cultivated. But there were still some knots left after the trees, which were cut out. But the soil had been slightly loosened. You could see that there the land had been cultivated. We were quartered in such a way so that one family would have a toilet. There was four of us, so we were lucky to have only two people per one bed. Unfortunately, a "petschka" occupied most space in the hut. It was a Russian bread oven. Had our predecessors been baking bread? We did not know, but this Russian oven occupied lots of space and we did not use it. There was a place on it to sleep in, in warmth, but we could not sleep there. Besides we did not heat it up, because you need lots of wood for that. There was an ordinary wooden cooker, with the top on the outside. It seems to me, but I am not sure, that there was already a pot, or maybe it was issued to us. You could put it inside and water would boil quite fast in it. There was lots of wood, so we could collect it easily. It was warm when there was lots of wood burning under the cooker, but in the morning, when we got up, the water in buckets was frozen. The houses were made of wood. The space in between the logs was stuffed with moss."

  • "Our one-year-long stay in Lvov was a period of deportations to Siberia. We belonged to a group called "bezentsy," i.e. people who did not get registered as tenants. They could tell us to leave any minute. We only did not know where to. People deported from Lvov had to go away up to 100 km. Somehow they had not touched the "bezentsy" yet. The first groups of people to be deported from Lvov were the officers, civil servants, dignitaries and of course merchants. The merchants were like a red rag to a bull."

  • "We left the kolkhoz and were packed into freight cars again. Not because the kolkhoz wanted to get rid of us. We even learned to pick cotton quite skillfully. We were on spur tracks. We did not know why it did not work out. We could only suspect things. If somebody told us something then we either conformed, all of us, or we did not believe it was true. We did not know what to do. Nobody wanted us anywhere. They packed us like sardines into the freight cars. Also 2 shelves, the lower and the upper, in the middle there was empty space. There was no toilet in the middle, because we could relieve ourselves at the railway stations. In the middle there was a "kozah" - a tin, round heater. A kerosene heater, no, a wooden heater. Maybe it was ignited with kerosene. It was heated from the bottom, and on the top you could heat up water. But you needed wood for that. It so happened that in the freight car with the heater, there were some young people who just left a labor camp. It was a pack of very close-knit, shrewd boys. They always got wood for us, which they stole at the stations. When they could not get any, I remember that one night, they stole a door from a stationmaster. They put a sick person on it, and then it was chopped into small planks. We used it to heat up the car and to boil water for tea."

  • "And the day came when we were all together at home. This could have been in the middle of the night or early in the morning. We heard loud banging at the door. There were three NKVD members, i.e. two men and one woman. All in official uniforms. They told us to pack all our junk, "soberaytse s veshtchamy, bo my vas peresedlayem." Not "We are deporting you to Siberia," but "we are displacing you." I said that I would not move, that they could do whatever they wanted: shoot me, murder me. For I could still remember paintings by Grottger, which were fashionable before the war and were everywhere in the house. They depicted how awful being deported to Siberia was. The painting were very depressing. Then a young NKWD came over and said, "It's no use standing pat. You need to take anything you can. You cannot leave anything behind, not even a pot or bottle. Pour water into all dishes that you can. Take everything: buckets, basins. Don't leave anything behind." This order somehow got to me. These two men helped us pack our things. Outside the house there was a huge tuck. In the whole tenement, floor after floor, they were looking for people not registered as tenants. Maybe we were on some list? Or maybe they were only checking what documents you had. I do not know. We did not register anywhere as those who would like to come back. They did not call for us to come and say what we had been before. This was a purge and nothing more. And they took us to Zamarstynow to pack us into freight cars. The freight cars were not so big. It is hard to say how many people were in one car. I can remember 20 names of people who were with us, and whose sleeping place I can remember. There were some shelves, "nary," and all families had their own shelf. We were on the bottom, and above us was another family. So you could not sit comfortably under such a shelf. And you could stretch out while lying and not touch anybody with your feet. Right in the middle, closer to the sliding door, there was a hole in the floor. This was a toilet. Just a hole and nothing more. So somebody decided that we could take out a sheet, tie a string and we would use the sheet to cover ourselves while in the toilet. For the situation was awful and quite embarrassing. I do not know what was on this hole. Maybe a stool or some kind of a toilet bowl. Why do I rise it up? Because a Jew, a Hasid, would sit on this toilet bowl for hours and read a book, maybe Talmud. And he would swing and pray."

  • "We worked in the NKWD sovkhoz, but there was also not much to do. But it had one big advantage. Every evening we got a bowl of raw groats, plus something else. Because we were to get money sometime in the distant future. I do not even know whether they paid us. "Predsedatel" was not local, he was Russian, who was also deported or sent to organize the kolkhoz. We all got a piece of bread each. You could dig ditches. I got the best, easiest job. There were some hotbeds, steamers. These hotbeds were boxes with soil. Supposedly something was planted there, nothing grew while I was there. I was a night watchman there. My job was to check the temperature in the hotbeds. When it was too cold, I had to cover them with mats, and when it was too warm, I had to put the mats aside. Because I was never a heroine type, and if I were to walk alone in the mountains, I said all prayers. When in fear, God is dear. I was terribly scared on these night duties. I had not other choice, because I was too weak to dig ditches. I preferred to go there at night and look after these hotbeds. In the evening I would go to the storeman, a elderly Ukrainian, who allegedly had a granddaughter in my age. He would give me an oil lamp, a so called "fonar," which Polish farmers used in stables, or somewhere. But most importantly, he let me put on his warm boots. So my legs were not cold. I got this "fonar" and did my night duty. I was terribly afraid. Sometimes on my night duties I would cover myself with the mats. The lamp was outside for everybody to see, so that they knew I was on duty. Once I saw a creeping shadow. There were many enemies of socialism, communism, who destroyed some things, so I thought that somebody bad was sneaking. At dawn it turned out that this was a donkey whose shadow resembled a sneaking criminal."

  • "We got some boiling water once a day. All this took place at some small, nameless stations. And they boiled the water there and sometimes we got a bucket of soup. But not everyday. I will never forget this soup in Russia. In the canteens they used to cook exactly the same soup. It was called "shtchy." It consisted of cooked cabbage leaves and other weeds. There was not even a drop of fat; maybe some oil. Not a scrap of meat or anything else."

  • "One of the young people says to me, "Listen, Poles are going abroad. Your soldiers are gathering in Fergana and there are transports from there. We have seen such transports and we talked with people going abroad. Go to Fergana, for there is an army gathering point." Fergana was not far away, but we, women, had to take care of the children. We were in the countryside; no means of transport. He says, "Listen, if you talk to our representative? (They came to bring sowing and plowing machines to the kolkhoz) "if he gives us a business trip order to Fergana to get coal or grease, then we could take you there." I told the news. Mrs. Kruchkova, the smartest among middle-aged women, who had two daughters, started looking for some "treasures" among her things. She found a tablecloth, she undid the buttons off the blouse, which she kept to wear in Poland after the return and she went to convince the representative’s wife. She was a miracle worker when it came to convincing people. She also took a few boxes of petrolatum, with which she cured headaches, toothaches - she was considered a miracle worker. And she went to the representative’s wife, with whom she had already established some contact and said that she would convince her husband to send a car to Fergana. She made it! The two young men took us by car to Fergana. It turned out that the army was not in Fergana but in Gorchakov, which was only one train station away. But Poles could not buy train tickets. If only we did not have to take care of two small boys and a sick girl. I said, "Think something up". They said that they would not go any further than the business trip order stipulated, for otherwise they could have problems. I gave a silver man's watch to the driver. It was my brother's favorite watch and it was the last thing I could exchange. The director did not want anything but he said that the driver should get something for the courage. The driver took the watch, and we went to the gathering point in Gorchakov. Just then, the soldiers were marching to the railway station to got abroad."

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    Kraków, 20.10.2008

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I will never forget this soup in Russia

Zofia Nastaborska
Zofia Nastaborska
photo: Pamět národa - Archiv

Born in Lviv on 14 August 1922. Her father - lawyer and economist - worked as the director of the Communal Savings Association. The family lived in Toruń and for the three years preceding the war - in Częstochowa. After the war had started, the father of Zofia Nastaborska was mobilized, following which the family fled to Lviv. Zofia Nastaborska commenced education at a nursing school and became an intern at the Hospital of the Child Jesus. On 29 June 1940 the whole family was deported to a labor camp in Sverdlovsk oblast. Zofia Nastaborska worked at a nursery, initially as a cleaning lady, later on preparing financial statements and reports. After the Sikorski-Mayski Agreement, the family had been released from the camp and left for Tashkent; then worked at a number of collective farms (kolkhozes). Zofia Nastaborska’a older brother joined the Polish Army, the younger one ­joined the affiliated “Junak” youth association. Zofia Nastaborska started working in a hospital run by Delegatura - the central Agency of the Polish Government in Exile. Together with the Anders Army she had been evacuated to Persia, where for two years she worked in a hospital at a pediatric ward. In 1944 she left for Africa (Tanganyika and Kenya), where she worked in a hospital and an orphanage. In 1947 she decided to return to Poland. She settled down in Cracow, where she graduated from the Economic Academy. She worked for the tin packaging industry.