32. My Wife's Story

“After you went to Berlin, I kept the theatre going showing pictures supplied by the German command. Skierniewice was subjected to heavier and more frequent bombing. The city was full of German troops, but they behaved fairly quietly. One day I saw among the Germans in the theatre several soldiers with shoulder parches "UVV" (Ukrainske Vyzvolne Viysko – Ukrainian Liberation Troops). I asked some of them from what part of Ukraine they came, and one of them answered: 'I am not a Ukrainian, we are from Kaluga. They ordered us to wear this brand, so we are wearing it.'

"Soviet troops entered Skierniewice on January 14, 1945 in the afternoon. I watched through the window and saw Soviet soldiers wearing rags of civilian clothes and with feet wrapped in more rags, go from house to house. A soldier came into our house and turned everything upside down, pulling out all drawers. When I asked him what he was looking for, he said: 'for a German.' He took all your underwear and some clothes and asked for food. I pointed to some bread and bacon in the cupboard, what was left of a barter deal for a pair of shoes. He saw a pickle, took it, and are it with bread. That night our former maid, Helen came running and told me to leave and hide because the Bolsheviks were looking for me. I was going to her home (she had married in the meantime), when one of the Polish non-coms of the 18th Infantry Regiment came running and brought me a pass issued by the Polish Underground with my name as Marianna Kowalska. He said that the Bolsheviks were looking for me all over, but that when they were asked for my address, all Poles replied that I had gone west. I went to Helen's home and spent the next two days there as her sick mother, but I was warned again that I must escape. They all advised me to go to Warsaw because it would be easier to get lost among the crowds there. In the bitter cold Helen's husband took me on a bicycle to the town of Wlochy near Warsaw, the trip taking 10 hours. My toes were frozen and I had to rub them with snow to get circulation back into them. It was very hard to find a place to sleep in Wlochy, but I finally found shelter in a hospital which was run by nuns. Next morning I went to the Warsaw suburb of Praga and looked up some Polish friends. They had a very small apartment and I lived in a room without windows until April. I was looking for work all over, but at the same time avoiding meeting anyone who would inform on me, even unwittingly. I could not get ration cards: for this it was necessary to join some Communist organization and accept work assigned by them. Finally I found work in a little grocery store, my wages were 100 zloty a month (enough to buy 3 pounds of bread) and room; in addition I had two meals a day, so-called coffee and bread. That summer was a very difficult time for me, working in the store I was wearing a worn overcoat and galoshes, my shoes had all worn out and it was impossible to buy anything, at least not with my pay. Late in August my guardians from the Polish Underground (P.P.) informed me that the Bolsheviks had picked up my trail. A wife of one of the officers picked me up and took me to another woman who also ran a small grocery store. I rested up a little there, and there the soldier sent by you for me found me after a long search. He took me out of Poland as a repatriating German. The trip was full of suspense and really close moments. On the way the Polish Security Police (U.B.) searched us an uncounted number of times, and the boy was beaten many times to admit who I was. This way we reached Berlin where we were put up by a German family for whom he had worked during the war. I could not leave Berlin because of my health and because of lack of documents. He went to you, leaving me with that German family who were very nice and hospitable. They fed me, since I had neither ration cards nor money. All this was in the Soviet zone of Berlin.

"Only in March 1946 a Ukrainian lady came to me to East Berlin and took me to West Berlin. The lady had been asked to take care of me by an American officer of Ukrainian descent. Lieutenant Ph. Hryhorchuk. He took care of me and told me that you had telegraphed him asking him to save me. Lt. Hryhorchuk brought food for me and the other lady every day, and after a lot of effort he was able to put me in an UNRRA camp. Later Lt. Hryhorchuk helped me get documents to travel to the British Zone in West Germany. It would take too much space to relate all my adventures during this period, particularly my trip west, which took nearly two and a half months.

"It might be interesting to add some comments on the way the people of Poland greeted the conquering Soviet troops, and that they came to realize within a few days of the new Soviet occupation that they had fallen into an abyss. It was quite understandable that following the inhuman terror, torture and mass liquidation of the Poles by the Germans, the people looked to Soviet troops as their liberators. I was told, that right on entering the city of Skierniewice (and this seems to have happened all over), the Bolsheviks began robbing the people of everything that had the slightest value. Women were raped, also small girls, and within two months nearly 10% of the women in Poland were infected with venereal disease. The Poles took out their revenge on the Bolsheviks. Every morning hundreds of corpses of Soviet soldiers killed with knives were found in the streets of Warsaw and other cities. And in spite of the inhuman behavior of the Germans, the Poles treated German soldiers with compassion when the Bolsheviks rounded up German prisoners of war and kept them behind barbed wire under the open sky without any food: the Poles, themselves near starvation, gave bread and food to the Germans saving them from death. Soviet robbery led to a new wave of hunger in Poland which affected even the soldiers. Soviet troops began to pilfer military property. For example, they would bring to the store where I was working drums of gasoline and kerosene, cigarettes, and soap, and sell them for a fraction of their value, just to get something to eat. There were many instances where Soviet soldiers sold horses to Polish peasants, mostly in barter for food. The peasants were glad to buy horses because the Germans had requisitioned them all. The Soviet trick, however, was that several hours later a different batch of Red Army men would come along and requisition the horses.

"Eyewitnesses told me that when the Soviet troops were entering Skierniewice hundreds of people went out into the streets and greeted them with raised arms. The soldiers, however, noticing rings on their fingers and watches on wrists, robbed them. "Give me your watch" was the word of greeting with which Soviet soldiers responded to a welcome. The phrase became so popular that when a newsreel was shown in Lodz with Roosevelt and Churchill meeting Stalin at Yalta, and Stalin extended his arm to Roosevelt, the entire audience shouted: 'give me the watch.'"

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Note by the author: Mr. and Mrs. L. V. Serdyuk found a soldier late in November who volunteered to go to Poland and look for my wife. This soldier spoke German and Polish very well and could pretend that he was a Pole being repatriated from Germany, and in turn when he would be going back to Germany with my wife, they would pretend to be Germans. Good people helped a lot, particularly Mr. R. Toporovych, commandant of the camp in Karslfeld near Munich, and Mr. M. Duzhyi, commandant of the camp in Mittenwald who provided this soldier with valuable goods which he could use during his trip. He was successful and found my wife although I could not tell him where she was, but merely indicated how to look for her, and also gave him a password by which she would recognize him as a person to be trusted.

Early in January 1946 when I was with my brother who was in command of a camp at Offenbach near Frankfort, our Judge – Lt.-Col. I. Kuklovsky took me one evening to see the American Lieutenant, Ph. Hryhorchuk who was on his way home on furlough and wanted to meet and tell me some things that he knew about me. He had been a liaison officer and interpreter in the American High Command in Berlin. When order was restored in Berlin and the city was divided into zones, the American Command received a list of Ukrainian emigres from the Soviet Command demanding their surrender. The first name on the list was that of President A. Livytsky, followed by mine. I was charged with a number of criminal acts, while the others on the list, about two hundred in all, were merely accused of political crimes. At the suggestion of Lt. Hryhorchuk the American general asked the Soviet commandant to specify the criminal acts of which I was being accused, but the Russians dropped the subject entirely. Lt. Hryhorchuk gave me his Berlin address and said I could ask for his help when needed. This was again the hand of Divine Providence: when I got news of the whereabouts of my wife, I turned to Lt. Hryhorchuk through the American Command in Munich and he helped save her. I am profoundly grateful to Lt. Ph. Hryhorchuk for this.

I wish to add here that I had never been a Soviet citizen and my foot had never set on Soviet territory. While still in Ukraine, I was fighting them as occupants of my homeland.