Clouds on the Horizon
The spring of 1939 as every other spring was welcomed because it came after a cold winter, which restricted our movements and our lives. Spending a lot of time indoors wasn't much fun. Spring meant coming closer to summer holidays and the freedom which a thirteen-year-old girl knew how to appreciate. From under the melting snow green blades of grass symbolized a new life which brought joy of expectancy and hope for the future. Soon above the fields and meadows the meadowlark will gladden us with its wonderful song. The walks in the woods by its beauty would incite many dreams, which will lead a young mind to explore many distant lands. Were they a premonition of what happened later? Strange how those beautiful dreams came true because of the events of a terrible war which took so many lives of innocent people, innocent and trusting children.
Grade seven in Poland was an important one. It was the year of crucial decisions. At this tender age the students had to make a decision as to their future. For most it was the end of formal education. The country was still recovering from its partition, which lasted almost 150 years, and the devastation of the First World War. Schools had to be built. Illiteracy had to be fought. Beginning at the junior high school level, the cost of education had to be shouldered by the parents. Exceptionally intelligent and top achievers were eligible for state bursaries. Village children often stayed at home helping their parents on the small farms. Some sought work in the cities or at the estates of the landowners, others sought some kind of apprenticeship to acquire a trade. Very few were in position to pursue further academic education. Making many sacrifices and taking chances that my academic achievement will assure a better future for their only daughter, my parents decided to enroll me at the junior high school in Baranowicze (eastern Poland). To be accepted at this educational institution, it was necessary to pass an entrance examination facing tough competition. For me, it meant to live away from home.
Springtime was a time of planning. Certain papers were necessary. A passport size picture was needed for my grade school certificate. The trip to a larger city was necessary to find a good photographer. March 23 was warm and rainy. My father and I traveled to Baranowicre. The picture was taken. Some shopping was done and it was time to travel back home.
The traffic on the highway was unusually heavy with mostly traffic of horse and buggy. These were the times when people could talk to each other while proceeding with their traveling. Soon enough we met a policeman, a friend of my father's. When we asked about the unusual traffic he told my father in confidence that, "There is a mobilization going on". As young as I was, I felt a chill going down my spine. Will Germans invade our country the way they did Austria and Czechoslovakia? Will my father and other male members of the family have to go to war? What will happen to us? Our parents who lived through the horrors of World War I told the sad stories of suffering to us. Projections of the future war, which could end in a destruction of the world because of the gas tactics, seemed even a bigger nightmare.
Frightening and unsettling events manifested themselves quickly. The very next day when I attended the school I found out that our principal and math teacher were not there. Both were called into the army, so was my favorite cousin Czesio who lived with us and was like an older brother to me. He lost his father during the First World War and was taken in by my parents. The family was unusually quiet. Everyone looked worried expecting the war. During the next months, no new visible events took place. The adjustments were made and the people raised their hopes for peace. Work has to be done, the studies had to continue and intensified with the time of approaching of my entrance exams to Junior High School. To assure a proper review of the material taught in elementary school I attended after school classes with a tutor engaged for the purpose. A few of my close friends and two of my cousins faced the same prospect. Passing the exam successfully seemed to be now a main concern for my parents and me. The life seemed to assume certain normality. Some men came back home to help their families with the work in the fields. That was accepted as an assurance of peace and raised many hopes for a secure and brighter future.
The time went by very quickly. My entrance examination was made up of oral and written parts and lasted a whole week. I stayed with our family friends who took care of my needs, encouraged and helped to cope with the feelings of anxiety which was difficult to bear at such a young age. The dreaded exam came to an end but the results were to be announced after few days that seemed to stretch forever. And then welcomed good news! I passed my exams quite well and was accepted for further studies. Coming home and facing my family I felt much older and wiser. I went through a difficult ordeal in which no one could help me. I had to face the strange teachers, who had my future in their hands, all on my own. Even my two brothers looked at me with some respect and did not tease me for a little while.
The summer months of 1939 were happy for us children. I spent them with the Karpowicz family who took care of me during my examinations. There were three daughters, mother, father and an aunt. One of their daughters Ala remained my friend for life. Her younger sister Halina befriended me later. Both were as close as sisters to me. Their parents spent their winters in the city and summers at their estate close to my family's home. Our activities during this summer were somewhat different. We spent less time building sandcastles and more time enriching our background acquiring more knowledge by reading books individually or together. Oral reading was quite necessary because Ala's eyes were easily strained and she had to be read to. This way we all could enjoy our favorite literature. During the breaks we learned and enjoyed doing embroidery. Listening to records and dancing proved to be a great deal of fun too. Our favorites were the horse and buggy excursions to the nearby family owned forest. Here we picked mushrooms, berries and had a picnic. We enjoyed good food prepared at home and drank freshly made juice. Coming back home at dusk we sang many songs. The younger girls Halina and Irka had beautiful voices. Ala and I did our best too.
How I wished for this happy summer to continue forever. As carefree and happy as we were, we could not help but notice the serious expressions on the faces of the grown ups when they were engaged in conversations. There were plans made in the answer to the questions "What if..." We knew somehow that the world around us was not as secure as before and that people again were afraid of German invasion.
We were brought up to be good patriots and to love our country. It was clear that in case of aggression the country would fight for its freedom. There was no limit to the sacrifice that the nation was ready to make to defend its beloved homeland, beloved Poland. Even the preparations for our further schooling were on hold now. And then it all happened! September 1st, 1939! A sunny beautiful day, full of promises was shattered by the announcement on the radio, "Hitler's troops attacked Poland without provocation or formal declaration of war". The "rats" did not have the courage to act like civilized human beings, but showed disregard for the international laws. This act which was to be followed by others, shattered my life and my childhood dreams.
It was necessary to have courage and hope. Although from the news we learned that Poland was invaded, we made plans to move to town to start our school. All our belongings were packed into the horse carriage and on September 3rd, we started our journey to Baranowicze. My father came to help us settle. No one was certain whether it was a right or wrong decision but everyone felt that life had to go on. Resuming normal activities was good for the morale of the citizens.
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