Antonina Szymkiewicz

* 1921  

  • "And I also remember how they reaped with a scythe. The potatoes. There were no machines yet. Pulled with a horse. Plowing with plough, and then with hoes. I still remember from my childhood. After they plowed the small ones, the kids, had to take care of stuff at the top, and then the mother and the father were coming with the hoes, and they were digging it from the earth, this way. But I liked the least when we had to move the hay with our hands, there was no machine. And it was so hot. This I didn’t like too. And the harvest. We had to tie these bales of hay".

  • "Q: What are these Mazurian pierogies, are they special in some way? A.Sz.: Not really, but there are different kinds. The Russian ones, with white cheese, with meat, various ways. That village was for a year, or many years the first village of the county, or the voivodeship, there first place it had, they always took care of that. And these housewives were taking care of that, everyone chipped in and they were making it, for the village, not for themselves but like that. Q: So were people making pierogies before the war too? A. Sz.: No! I didn’t know pierogies before the war. I didn’t know them at all. It’s a Polish dish. Before the war the pierogies were made with yeast or baked in the oven. I hadn’t known the boiled pierogies at all. Q: And now it’s supposedly a traditional dish… A. Sz.: Right. The same with bigos, We didn’t know that one too. Q: So what was a popular dish here before the war? A. Sz.: Pea soup. Sauerkraut, boiled with kasha, and there was this dish konigs prie, meatballs, these were small cutlets in the white borstch. It was specialitat. A king’s dish. Q: But you don’t make it now, do you? A. Sz.: I make it often. Because I like it a lot".

  • "My dear! There were only two classrooms, but there were seven classes in these two rooms. There were two teachers, so first the three went, and then the others. It wasn’t that much. We managed to squeeze in, and in these two classes we has lessons only in the morning. There weren’t that many people. A tiny village it was. Q: How many farms, or families, were there? Do you remember who lived there? A.Sz: I remember everyone. Q: So please describe who lived where. A. Sz: Well, we lived in the village too, only at the outskirts. And everyone live in the village, everyone had a piece of land, or they worked at the railways, or the post office. And everyone worked on their farms. Q: So how many houses were there in the village? A. Sz: How would I know… About 15 in the village, and the same at the outskirts. Q: Just scattered around? A. Sz: Yes, everyone had their field next to their house. Only the ones in the village, they had their fields somewhere else, not that close to their homes. But everything fit in the neighbourhood. Q: And were these all German families, or also some Polish ones? A. Sz: There were no Polish ones. There was one, kind of. These Bynks… Two of their boys even went to a Polish school somewhere, their studied in Polish. But apart from that all the families were German".

  • "And there was a bombing of Biskupiec in the morning. They threw the first bombs. And the sirens were on after the dinner. The sign was given by the phone, to the army, and the let us know to hide in the cellars. And then we… It was my first bombing then. And in that square, the bomb fell there. We didn’t know what to do. Our cellar was underneath this yard in between the two houses. If the bomb falls, it will bury is, and we will not go out anyway. Buried. Such a small yard. We were standing there and looking. We waited until the bombs stopped falling. Q: But they didn’t kill anyone? A. Sz.: When we went out, there was a soldier lying down with a wound in his leg, screaming. That’s when I first started to be afraid of the war".

  • "One day we had to stay after the classes were over, I don’t know why, something that they dind’t like, and we escaped from the class. And on the second day we knew, that we would get beaten, so we smeared our hands with onion, because when you get beaten then, it hurts, but it does not get swollen. And he smelled it, and he didn’t beat us. I still remember that! Q: I guess you were in the same class with your siblings, since the kids of various ages were there. A. Sz.: Yes. There were three rows of desks, the classrooms were large, one, and the other, and each one of them as if… And in the other one there were longer benches. There were two rows, but such long benches. When some of them were drawing, the other were doing I don’t know what. He ordered to read something. I have no idea how he was managing. Q: Were there any celebrations or theatre plays at school? A. Sz.: No. We did not have any. Later, when the older girls came, the ones from the village. They gathered us and organized something. But not at school. Only the sporting events, to Czerwonka or somewhere else. Only once in the summer there was one event, in the village, the dressed-up people from the school. And they made a celebration. But nothing apart from that. Q: And did you have a special uniform for school? A. Sz.: No, everyone had what they had. And when it was hot in the summer, above 25 degrees, one didn’t even have to go to school. In the summer".

  • "The Russians were in Gdańsk, and there was no way through. We had to go back. We went back to Braniewo and we stayed there. And we were still there when the Russian came in. And then they took us away, when the army and the front was getting closer, to that Istra, where I went to school, and then farther away beyond Królewiec, to the seaside. The place where those factories of amber were. I don’t know how it is called now in Russian. Huge amber factories these were. Russians entered there only after April 15th. And here they were already in January. And they told us to go home. So we went home. But we didn’t get there right away, because we were scared to go, and also scared of Russians. We ment acquaintances from Królewiec, and together with them, since these young girls got disconnected from… And there we stayed with them. The house was still standing in Królewiec and we stayed there. Until 46. A whole year. And then we escaped. We wanted to go home. They were promising that they would take us away to Germany, and they weren’t. And there was hunger, oh my. Terrible. Everything destroyed after the war. I knew Królewiec from before the war. Before I passed my exams I had to go for a training in Królewiec. So I knew it. And after the war I saw that everything is destroyed".

  • "A. Sz.: There had been Jews there, and when the persecution started, they left. Because there was a lot of Jewish shops. They were there. They were. Q: Do you think that they left before the war, or were they murdered? A. Sz.: No. Even before the war some of them managed to leave. And I remember also that. We were always buying from a Jew, and then we had to… They were taking pictures of whoever was buying from a Jew. It was always written, that you are forbidden to buy from a Jew, and they were taking pictures. So then I was afraid. We did it in stealth, so that they can’t see and take pictures, when one went to the Jew to buy. It wasn’t allowed. And then this one left, another came".

  • "And we stayed here. We came back and we stayed. Q: And the house was standing there empty? Had anyone taken it? A. Sz.: It the house it was… My mother came back in the meantime, and the youngest daughter, my sister, they were here, but staying with her brother’s wife, in Bisów. Because they were alone, they were scared, so they stayed there… There were two Polish families. In our house. But when we came back, we first went to the house where my sister was, we met the older sister on our way, when they ran away, and we came here, so they told us, where they were, where the mother is, and we went there. And this family moved away on the other day. And the other one did later. But they had a few cows in the yard. When we got there from the station. And then it was close to Bisowo, 4-5 kilometers, to my mother, beyond the village. We went there and stayed with that aunt, until those people moved away. Q: And then you could go back. Where were those people from, from the east? A. Sz.: I don’t know where from. From the central (Poland) they moved here".

  • "Q: And you lived in these peoples’s house, didn’t you? A. Sz.: No! Wherever one could. Wherever a place was, some shed or anything, they renovated it. A few people lived there then. First we lived with these people, who owned the house, but they came in the night, kicked in the door, bashed my head, scratched my sister all over. Q: The Russians? A. Sz.: Yes. They locked the door afterwards. They locked us, because it was on one of the higher floors, but a neighbour came with a latter later, and we escaped".

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    Biskupiec, 10.09.2012

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There were two Polish families In our house

Antonina Szymkiewicz
Antonina Szymkiewicz
photo: Pamět Národa - Archiv

She was born on March 11th 1921 in a Mazurian village Wilimy close to Biskupiec, in the family of Antonina and Gustaw Roman. Her parents were German landowners. She grew up together with five siblings. She finished primary school and a three-year school in which she studied housekeeping. She worked as a cook in a hotel in Ostróda, later she came back close to her family - to Biskupiec. Before the coming of the Soviet troops she tried escaping deeper into Germany, but it was too late - the Red Army had already reached Gdańsk. Together with her sister she got to Królewiec through frozen Vistula Lagoon, and she lived there for a year in very hard conditions and in constant fear, afterwards coming back to her home village in Mazury. There she met with her mother and the other sister. She tried to get to Germany one more time, but she did not receive a permit. In 1947 she married a Pole, and they settled in Biskupiec. She gave birth to four children, and she devoted het time to their upbringing and housekeeping. Her husband died in 1971. After his death she supported herself from the social security payments and from being a cook during children’s summer camps. She is currently retired. All of her children live in Poland.