Laura de Gozdawa Turczynowicz.
When the Prussians Came to Poland
THE LIVES OF THE TOWNSPEOPLE
LIVE---we did not live---we barely existed! One grey day blurring into another, waiting, always waiting for something to happen. Hoping against hope for deliverance. "Hope deferred maketh the heart sick" might have been written for the prisoners of war, and when hope is lost, life hangs loosely by a thread---how many there were who cut the thread!
Belated spring came to us, and the "white nights," but it did not matter. . . . I changed my thought of rejoining my husband from before the green was on the trees to Wanda's birthday---the sixteenth of June, reminding myself of a donkey who had to be coaxed along the road by a bunch of carrots.
One day our kind friend, the doctor, came to tell me one of the Russian sisters was ill; would I take her in? Of course it was a happiness to be able to do so. But after all was prepared for her reception the Germans refused permission for her to come to me. However, I dared to go to her. She was in the Russian Hospital. A sad place was that Russian Hospital. Without hope, shut off from the world. I spoke with the different officers, taking messages, promising to carry letters. It comforted them and I was convinced that some day I would get out.
The poor sister was very ill, in mind as well as body; but there was nothing I could do to help---my duty was towards the prisoners on the streets, who were not allowed in the hospital. On my way home I stopped with two other sisters at the soldiers' hospital, seeing acquaintances carrying food to the wounded; that awful pea soup with stray potatoes. Everything was grimly clean for the prevention of infection to the German soldiers; there had been such awful epidemics that they were a little more careful. When leaving that hospital the German soldiers on guard jeered at and insulted us---saying there were no officers there, why had we come? And much more to the same effect, only worse. We paid no attention to what was said, only I shall not soon forget that walk back through the town. Every soldier had something to say. How glad I was to have my own roof. When I thought of those two girls facing those wretched, insulting soldiers every time they went to dinner, I felt my rooms a haven of safety. Oh! yes, I was favoured!
After the Captain left, the military used my apartment more. They would come and sit, using it as a Club. Very often an officer took up his quarters there for a few days. So it happened on the 7th, 8th, and 9th of May.
On the morning of the 8th, my cook came back from the town, telling me the Germans were celebrating some great deed. She had not got the story straight, but the soldiers were given license that day. Misfortune enough for us! In the evening the officers celebrated at my house, a great number of them,---I was begged to give them tea. There was no use objecting, it would only have brought misfortune upon us, so samovar after samovar I patiently served them. Tea! A half glass or cup of rum, and a little water and tea.
My cook told me how things were going early in the evening. In the officers' room they drank great glasses full of brandy and so on, then came to the table to drink their tea.
The tongues were loosened quickly enough and I heard the terrible story of the Lusitania. They read me the dispatches, trying to make me express an opinion. What would have happened to us had I dared to express my opinion? It was taking a risk to say, "God have mercy on the poor ones left behind," as I did, hardly trusting myself to speak. Even that brought a storm of protest upon me. No one was to blame, only the English, the people had been warned, they had gone to their deaths with their eyes open---and so on, ad libitum, opening the way for the most terrible tirade against the Americans.
I had listened to enough terrible things uttered against the English to call down destruction upon my house where they were uttered---not daring to say one word in protest. It would have cost our lives. But when they began to blackguard America and the Americans, beginning with the President, then I felt the time had come to make them understand I would not listen to everything. Trembling so that my knees almost refused to support me, I rose from the table, saying:
"I will not listen to one more word against America. I am heart-sick over this horrible news. You must excuse me from further service."
This had the effect of sobering them, a certain high officer saying,
"The gracious lady is right!"
Another one suggested that, before I went, the health of the Kaiser and the victory of the German arms be drunk. They had champagne, and I let them pour a glassful for me without protest---fetching a small carafe. When they drank the toast I simply emptied the glass into the carafe, saying when there was so much illness in the town, those few drops might save somebody's life. At this one of the officers brought me a full bottle of champagne from his room, saying:
"Now you will drink our toast!"
Frightened, but even more determined, I answered,
"No! Not if there were rivers of champagne!" instantly adding, "that I was awfully glad to get the wine for my patients, even if I did not feel called upon to thank them for it. They had taken so much from me."
Saying "good-night, " with a certain finality of tone I went to my children. I drew up a chair between the boys' cribs, and lifting little Wanda from the bed held her in my arms, thinking that if they tried to make me pour more tea I should have my excuse ready.
For a few minutes after I left, the officers were quieter, but soon they began to sing-to cry "Hoch! Hoch! Hoch " growing so noisy in their carousal that the children were awakened. This once I was thankful, for when an officer came to beg me to come to the table once more, I was very busy with the children---laying my finger on my lips and shaking my head as an answer. Dash, our little Spitz dog, growled continually that night. She knew there was danger, and, in her animal way, expressed sympathy! It was such a fearsome night in the town---with the soldiers drinking---that not many people slept. At three o'clock the officer came once more, swaying from side to side in his efforts to keep his balance, to bid me serve them with tea. I had my little daughter in my arms, and she began to cry, thus giving me courage to say:
"No! I cannot leave the child. You have all had quite enough. It is time to go to bed, and let my children sleep."
I suppose the bare fact of speaking in this way impressed a drunken man, and also that I showed no fear. At any rate by four o'clock when the guns ceased their cannonade, it was quiet in the house, leaving me to wonder how many such nights I could live through and keep my reason---thinking of my plight, that I must be civil to men who could rejoice over the innocent lives lost when the Lusitania went down.
THE SALE OF ALCOHOL IS ONCE MORE PERMITTED
My refusal to drink the toast was evidently reported for on the 9th of May my petition was refused! I was not to be allowed to rejoin my husband. It was a blow, coming right on top of the horrors of that orgy, but I refused to let myself be discouraged, feeling if that happened we never should be let out, knowing somehow, sometime, my prayers would be answered. I immediately busied myself writing another petition. The officers were still there on the 9th. Two of them looked a little ashamed when they greeted me. One, however, told me he had something for me to read,---written by an American.
Thereupon, I was introduced to Houston Stewart Chamberlain, who is English, not American! What an awful creature he must be to write such things. Also what an awful lot of money he must have received as the price of his soul! For he has painted the Germans as the Germans dream of being---blameless, angelic. Point by point, comparing the English with the Germans, he presents the former in character and language vastly to their disadvantage. They are left without a feather; plucked bare! Though he did say English was the only possible rival of the German as a world language, simply because there was a resemblance between the two! English being suited only for commerce, for the people had the true commercial soul, which soul was in their pocket-books. But, to make love, to express tenderness, or great and high sentiments, the only language in the world was the German. Seeing so much of their high nobility at close range I felt like expressing myself also in German, with the word which was oftenest on their lips "Hinaus!
As no one but a German would by any chance read those booklets of Herr Chamberlain's, they can do small harm. And if any one did read them, they could not be taken seriously. The compliments showered upon the Germans are too fulsome.
I was also given a booklet by Sven Hedin. He is clever, at least. A People in Arms is carried about by most of the officers. All very fine; but, if Hedin had been a prisoner to those people, left to their tender mercies, instead of travelling about as the guest of the Commanding General, perhaps his song would have been written in another key. Most probably it would not have been one of praise.
Once more life settled down to a grey routine of waiting. We were told that "civil government" was to be given the town. Naturally we poor prisoners dreaded it, knowing any change would be for the worse. Food again grew scarce. One day there was literally nothing of which to make soup for the military prisoners. When the time to feed them came, and food was not forthcoming, the German soldier on watch came to ask what was the reason for the delay! When I told him he said to give him money, and he would buy bread for the waiting hungry prisoners. My cook went with him and a Jew was forced to sell bread at a more reasonable rate than he demanded of the townspeople. The precedent was not a good one for me. Very often after that demand was made upon me for money, and my funds were simply evaporating. Once when the prisoners employed about the hospital asked me for food, I gave each a silver half rouble. There were only four of them, and they told me some of the German soldiers would sell a piece of their bread if they had silver money to pay for it. For this I was severely reprimanded. I was told my privilege of feeding prisoners or caring for them would be taken away if I did such a thing again. Curious indeed! If I even delayed feeding the prisoners the German soldiers were after me insisting on my giving food yet threatening to forbid it.
Two prisoners were given to serve the old Jewish woman, who proudly said she was and always had been a German spy. They had to carry wood and water for her, receiving much abuse. A contrast to another old Jewess, whom I often saw and who helped all she could, feeding the unfortunate ones. She would come with a little pail of soup or cereal, whatever she could get, the soldiers standing about her and dipping in with their own spoons. The poor old woman always shared her food with the men,---it was only a few spoonsful,---but what a difference it made! Rain or shine she was there with her little pail, asking no permission, and for some reason never was stopped. Her son was somewhere among the Russian soldiers.
The Jewish people were not meeting with the treatment, which they had been led to expect. Fines were continually imposed upon them. Everything had been taken away. Of course they were clever enough to have money concealed where not even the enemy could find it, bringing it out when a time of comparative quiet came. Many got permission to buy things in Prussia. We had some benefit from this even if it cost us dearly. I got ten pounds of sugar, paying ten roubles. The thing which was really bad for the town was the fact that alcohol was once more on sale. People who could not buy food were beginning to drink rum!
IN TROUBLE THROUGH THE CHILDREN
TOWARDS the last day of May, there was an awful battle lasting four days and nights. So strong was the cannonading that no one thought of going to bed. The nights were light, or it might have been worse watching through the hours. I begged an orderly in the hospital to get me a candle---it was so trying to sit listening without occupation---and those nights I dressed Wanda's doll. To read was impossible and there were only small matters to write of in my journal. I had to keep awake; in fact it was impossible to sleep!
The town was surrounded by fire, for the Germans often used those awful spurting flames. We could hear the singing of the shells, and the impatient tuk-tuk-tuk of the machine guns. For some reason that was the sound I dreaded most,---more than the big cannons. After the first night's battle, we heard that the Russians were gaining. The Germans in the town were all packed up for flight. Prisoners were driven off to East Prussia---hope ran high! Wounded arrived in such numbers that the hospitals already closed for evacuation had to be opened once more. Regiment after regiment of reinforcements went dashing through the town singing! Always a fearsome sign. And artillery---the heavy gun-carriages almost deafening one. Such a din they made! And how we rejoiced when the sound of battle came nearer. We were sad, too, when we thought of all the lives lost in such a fight.
The first day some officers took quarters in the rooms of our house, that had been reserved for me---they were awaiting the word to go to the trenches. One of them, a young Herr Lieutenant, played about with the children. He was quite young and very sympathetic, and though the children had steadfastly refused to make friends with the Germans, they seemed to like this one. After spending the day in our rooms, this officer was called out that evening. We were not so glad the second night, for such tremendous reinforcements had arrived that we could not picture to ourselves a force sufficient to overcome them. The next morning we were all standing at the windows watching the wounded arrive at the hospital, when the Herr Lieutenant came into the room! Only over night away, but hardly to be recognized. He was painfully wounded, shot through the elbow, and with various flesh wounds. He was torn, and soiled, and covered with blood stains. The most remarkable expression was on his face---the boyishness quite wiped out, through the suffering.
The poor fellow needed attention sorely, but there were such crowds at the hospital he had to wait. Of course I dared not touch his wound---being a prisoner! I could only do what was possible to make him comfortable---he was faint from pain and hunger. The children were sorry and showed him sweet sympathy. It was curious to hear them talk English to him---standing about as he drank black coffee. Something seemed to be working in the little minds, and finally it came out. Stas said:
"Mammy, what dreadful people the Germans are to shoot their own officers!"
"The Germans did not shoot him, but the Russians! Those were Russian bullets, " I explained.
Mammy, mammy, did the Russians kill all those Germans we saw carried by, and all the wounded in the hospital, did the Russians shoot them?"
In her eagerness to know Wanda could hardly take time to speak.
"Yes, darling, the Russians did all that!"
"Oh goody-goody "---the children began to dance about, wild with joy. The boys wanted to look at the officer's wounds, which the Russians had made; it was difficult to stop them; they had a little orgy of their own. I had not understood; their introduction to the principle of war had just then taken place! It made me heart-sick to see how glad they were to see a wounded man. It was because they had seen so much of the horrible things done by the Germans. I could not help, though I dreaded the effect upon the childish characters; and looked at the officer imploringly. He was kind, and said:
"I will not report this. You are safe, but don't let them say such things when others are about. You are responsible for your children."
The battle grew in fierceness all that day. Suwalki was almost emptied of Germans. I bought everything it was possible to buy, thinking the Russians would come in hungry after the fight---even bread was to be had! A Jew came to offer it to me---he said he was baking for "our soldiers!" Well, poor creature---he was only trying to save his own skin!
One night more, and then the firing grew farther away---Oh! the awfulness of that feeling of knowing the enemy was still in possession, the despair, the difficulty of keeping any routine in life; one felt the suffering of the people of the town in the very air, and they would be "bestrafed"!
I tried to teach the children something I did not myself believe, but a childish mind is not easily convinced. I told them they must be polite to the Germans or else Mammy would get shot too. Wladek did not take this quite the way I expected---he is such a little patriot---as they all are, but Wladek could not be made to feel the necessity of hiding his feelings!
That afternoon some more officers came in telling me they would like black coffee. One was a typical Prussian---big, red, and brutal. He tried to talk to the children. They would have nothing to do with him. He walked about the room twirling his riding whip, laughing, and satisfied with the result of the battle. So great was his satisfaction he must even express it to the children. "Russky kaput!" (the Russians are finished!) he kept saying over and over.
The children were antagonistic and frowning. What was about to happen I did not know. I dared not interfere nor say one word. Wladek could at last stand it no longer. He went right up to the officer with his brother and sister by the hand, saying,
"Nein, nein---German kaput!"
The officer started after him furiously. Wladek tried to run still calling out, "German kaput. "
I caught the boy, begging him to be quiet. The officer shook his riding whip over us.
"We see how you teach your children, Madame! You must make the boy say, 'Russky kaput,' or I will beat him till he does!"
Even then Wladek went right on saying: "German kaput." He seemed possessed---though he did not try to run---feeling his weakness.
The officer tried to take him from me, saying he would give the boy a lesson. When it came to that point I just defied him also, telling him to leave the children alone, that he was only making the boy resentful, that he dared not touch my child still weak from fever, that if he did it would be over my dead body. A horrible scene and one which my boys will never forget; but, we won out!
I used the argument once more that I was an American---in America a man would not strike a little helpless, weak child, and we were finally left in peace. How frightened I was! But not Wladek! He was only glad now it was over, that he had defied the "Germans."
THE big fight was over. Our captors settled themselves down for an indefinite stay. We in the town paid dearly for the hopes we had dared to entertain. Fines innumerable were imposed; half the people were in prison,---and we had "civil government." Curiously enough the "Bezirkschef was a Russian Jew with a very funny name! He was from Courland, and immediately let us feet his power. Especially, did I come in for various favours! As soon as he arrived, my petition was again refused. He held that I was a spy, and was on the watch to catch me. One of the reasons given for refusing my petition was that I had fed the prisoners! This time they were right. If I could have got information to the Russians I would have done so, with joy and gladness, only there was no chance! Also I fed the prisoners.
The three Russian Sisters were convicted of espionage. Evidently one of them had asked some question of a German officer. I trembled for them, the one was still weak from the fever, when they came to me one day to tell me they were to be taken into Germany. Feeling the danger to me and my children through their visit they hardly wished to sit down. A German doctor came in to see what they were up to, also a soldier. We spoke of music and art and such things. The doctor wished me to sing,---under such circumstances! Those three girls had something to tell me, but got no chance,---poor souls they had lived through awful things. A few days afterwards I saw them driven along the street to the train, every soldier jeering, surrounded by men with guns on their shoulders.
My funds were very low, but my cook had her savings. They were in my care. She had long ago begged me to take them---over four hundred and fifty roubles. I had to do it or else stop helping the prisoners. The men who came for medical help every day expected me to give them a shirt and soap. I could not bear to disappoint them.
Many peasants and Jews came with old shirts for me to buy. One Jew dug up from some refuse heap a lot of the Russian soldiers' shirts, evidently left when the town was evacuated. He wanted thirty kopecks a garment. I told him it was his duty to bring them to me without money. What would happen to him when the Russians came back if I told them such a story! This frightened him and we finally compromised on ten kopecks!
The conditions among the prisoners were no better---only more prisoners! There was little resemblance left to humanity in the men, when the Germans had had them for a while;---they were not only starved, but beaten!
I used to feel that I should go mad if I could not see some one who was neither a prisoner nor a conqueror, but just a human being.
Whitsuntide came, and with it the German priest returned to his duties in Suwalki. This time the military used my apartment as quarters, so we had less of his company, but still too much! He spoke to the townspeople, giving them a message which purported to come from the Pope, a message of non-resistance, humility, and obedience! The Kaiser was to restore the ancient glory of Rome, the temporal kingdom! Every good Catholic was to help the Germans in every way; God was on their side. The falsehood was obvious, but still the peasants were intimidated. Their own priests did not dare to contradict openly, but no one believed the German. On Whitsuntide the soldiers were given license to drink as much as they wished; my piano was carried into the garden; chairs, tables, and couches were taken wherever found, and . . . a reign of terror began. A woman dared not look out of a window. The men sang and danced and yelled, and amused themselves with any unfortunate one of the town whom they caught. The guns were almost silent those nights; if only word could have been sent to the Russians
One night I was bathing my children. We were speaking of our dear one, wondering where he might be, when a clangour of the church bells startled us. So many months there had not been a sound from them,---then all at once every bell in the town was ringing! The first thought was naturally that the Germans were caught---surrounded. A lady came rushing in to me, so excited her whole face quivered. We did not say much, but glanced hopefully at each other. I had the children to put to bed, whatever was happening, and would not speak of our hopes before them. When the little people were in bed and their prayers said, I told them to lie quietly while I went to see why the bells rang. My visitor and myself went on the balcony, by this time the Germans were parading -singing. Every once in awhile a Hoch---Hoch---Hoch---would rend the air. We came down so rapidly from our high hopes, with hearts sick and sore from hope deferred, that I hardly cared what it was, until a German orderly from the hospital called out to me,
"Lemberg ist gefallenl"
Lemberg---fallen---taken by the Germans. . . . We two women clung together---a blow indeed---what suffering it would mean to the town---they would be punished horribly! The Austro-German army would forget that it had been Austrian territory before the war. . . . I could picture to myself just what was going on;---and my husband's post was in Lemberg! Surely he had long since left. . . . I could have torn my hair out in the anxiety, the uncertainty---of the moment:----if I could just know if he were alive---and not a prisoner.
Little Wanda kept calling, wishing to know if the Germans were going. I told her no, but that they had taken the town where Tatus´ was. The child comforted me when she said, "But Tatus´ is not there---Wanda knows it!"
I gathered my wee girl in my arms . . . if I could have cried it would have made my heart easier.
After Wanda had fallen asleep I laid her on the bed and went back to my visitor. I was afraid my apartment would be selected for the officers to celebrate in---I peeped out from behind the curtain;---not one soul was to be seen, only the rioting soldiery---the bells kept up their din---they seemed to beat one into the earth.
The next day fines were imposed upon most of the people---because they had not rejoiced when Lemberg was set free, out of her bondage to such freedom as we enjoyed! If we could only have attained that point of view things might have been easier for us---we might then have let the prisoners starve and not have shown our displeasure when they were beaten---but owing perhaps to our woeful lack of Kultur we could not quite attain to the Prussian way of thinking!
A NEW PETITION
I WAS astonished to receive one morning a summons brought by a soldier to a meeting of the people responsible for the town. It was to take place in the rooms of a gentleman (a noble) who had unfortunately remained to protect his interests. His house was about in the same condition as mine---only I had a few rooms, and he only two;---and even there the common soldiers who occupied the house made themselves at home, sleeping in his bed, if it so pleased them.
When I attended the meeting there were many people I had not seen since we were shut off from the world,---among them the engineer and the nobleman with his two sons, Pan W. I asked them why they did not come to me. They said they did not wish to get me into more trouble. I told them they could not, so they might as well come. The new man, near-the-head of the civil government, the Courlandish Jew was there; my enemy! I was as polite as possible, just as if he had not refused my petition. I had written another one and wondered what would happen. Perhaps they would get tired of reading my petitions and let me go to be rid of the trouble!
When the Bezirkschef began to talk we found we were called together to institute a typhus hospital for the town---the disease was all over. The idea was we were to find house, beds, bedding, nurses, and food; the Germans would make the apothecaries give all drugs and disinfectants.
I immediately said my time was more than full, for I was detailed to care for the prisoners working upon the streets and had three small children. A lady who was a nurse in the Russian hospital, working night and day, said she could not help for she was head nurse where the surgical cases were.
The man was furious at us for answering, and said it was all one; we had either to do it ourselves or pay for the doing of it, and he would hold our host responsible for it. It was horrid to see that ordinary creature intimidate those people. Most of them spoke German indifferently because they had never wished to, and now they were at a disadvantage,---as there was no one there who could take the responsibility. After various hair-raising threats we were ordered home,---not before I was told I would surely be called upon to do my share of the nursing---to which I answered that besides the two reasons given I was leaving Suwalki! How he laughed---and said, "No, never." Also that he was coming to have a look at my papers. Well he said that for it had never occurred to me someone would try to look through our documents, which were cleverly enough hidden.
In the wardrobe, which stood in my bedroom, behind the heavy mirror was a number of drawers. By pulling out the lower one, concealed at the back was a very good secret compartment. There rested the leather case which contained our documents. I looked through them nervously as soon as I got back from the meeting, fearing to be interrupted. I decided to show three only, and my husband's Munich University diploma. I dared not show my wedding certificate-because there it was written I was born in Canada! My father was an American citizen, I had lived all my life in the United States, never having been in Canada for more than short visits. Still if my birthplace were discovered, nothing could save me.
My children's baptismal certificates could be shown. They were Austrian, for the children were born in Cracow, where my husband was Professor in the University. Before our sons were two years old we had gone to live in Russia to make them Russian subjects. The family estates were in the Kingdom of Poland (Russian) and my husband had been called to serve in the Department of Agriculture---having two governments, Lomza and Suwalki, under his jurisdiction. His especial branch of science was hydrotechnique. In the children's certificates was a simple statement of dates, my name, and the word that my husband was a Professor of the Jagiellonian University of Cracow! These I laid aside and concealed the rest---some of them old and interesting. We had kept those documents with us since the war began, and after the first evacuation of Suwalki they had been in my care. One was an old patent for a French title given by Henri de Valois when he came to be King of Poland---many families had received the same, but most of these letters had disappeared in the course of the years.
There was a legend in our family that the great-grandfather drove seven days with a sledge to get his patent of nobility signed in Petrograd, when that was made necessary by the new laws. That document above all others had to be concealed.
After making up my mind which documents to show I wrote a petition to the "Herr Presidial Rat" of Suwalki (the nearest English term to that is the Presidential adviser, but it does not mean that) begging leave to present a petition in person! I was growing impatient, and I felt that the more I worried at them, the nearer my release would be.
In a day or two I was granted my request, and found a curious old man, a "von," rather incompetent, and who was probably regarded as a figurehead only. My enemy was the real chief! I gave him the documents and presented my petition, telling him it was the fourth! This time I begged permission to go to Norway---if that were not possible, then to America, though I did not see my way clear to get there, but I had a lively trust in Providence.
The chief was very polite, looking at my card with interest, but told me I was known to the authorities as a Russian sympathizer, and had shown great distress at the fall of Lemberg. I admitted this,---but how could we feel otherwise when Poland was being trodden into the earth---exterminated! He answered if I could only see the rights of the matter,---how Germany was the only friend and salvation of Poland,---my affairs would move along with celerity. As it was, the petition should be sent to the chief commander of the army, with his recommendation, for he was saddened to see a noble woman brought to such straits.
A NEW FRIEND
THE chief result of this last petition was that the Germans began to call me Frau Professorin! .Almost immediately after that we made a new friend, an humble one, but true. The children were walking in the garden with my cook when they met a soldier, who spoke English with them; they liked him and led him home with them to see their Mammy. He told me he had been a waiter in the Waldorf-Astoria in New York, later in Brussels. He was caught there when the war broke out and was forced to go to Germany, which meant the army for him. He was a great tall fellow and the children called him "dear little Gustav!" How he regretted not being in America, and he was certainly not enthusiastic over the war! He was serving a doctor as orderly, and I have many kindnesses to thank him for. He would go walking with the children, often bringing us some delicacy. Once a wonderful box came for him---a present from his sweetheart! There were all sorts of things,---a loaf of curious, black-looking "sandkuchen," a cake which had been a great favourite in Germany---but which was not suited to be made with black flour and little sugar; a jar of raspberry jam, a tremendous sausage, bread, a tiny package of salt, which I was especially glad to get, for salt had reached a rouble a pound! A little pot of butter! All these glorious things Gustav brought to me for the children, and I accepted them simply with a thankful heart. This kind fellow suggested a petition begging for permission to buy in the German military store. There were fruits, marmalade, smoked fish, canned vegetables, extracts of meat for soups, everything to be had,---but the townspeople dared only gaze at the wares from a distance. A soldier was on guard before the door. It was hard to be hungry, have money, yet not permitted to buy food!
The people used to stand about, trying to induce some good-natured soldier to buy them something, perhaps an orange for some sick person, or child.
They dared not do it, however, but Gustav often bought things for me running the risk of detection. just before the sixteenth of June, my little daughter's birthday, through the kind doctor's influence, I received permission to buy for my family. After that Gustav brought a whole load of stuff every day, for I bought for the town! We had quite a jubilee! One day Gustav came with the great news that pails of marmalade were there to buy, and he had secured one, knowing I would wish it. As I was excitedly watching the opening of the pail, our priest came in! He also was excited! We immediately had tea and slices of black bread, thick with jam! There were five pounds of it, so I sent five glasses to people I knew especially needed "heartening." Gustav good-naturedly offered to fetch more if one of the children might go with him---that meant Wanda, for he adored her! He brought two more pails. One I kept---the other by various means and by-ways, for it was not allowed, arrived at the Russian hospital.
Another thing I found there was "pudding-powder" a sort of cereal, which swelled with cooking, increasing greatly. A most desirable quality in war time! It was sweet and seasoned with fruit---the children were delighted with the pink kind. This also I was able to get a quantity of, sending it to the typhus patients in the Russian hospital.
The prisoners on the street were made glad by pails of tea with slices of lemon, an unheard of luxury. So many had the scurvy it was a medicine for them.
The hardest thing I ever did---and for me to say this means something---was to draw a line to say there was no more. I wished to feed them all---I felt like the mother of the town! My funds would have given out long before if the cook had not held me back---saying there would be nothing for the children. It was maddening to see such suffering and to be able to relieve so little of it. What was feeding forty-two daily, with perhaps ten more added because I could not say no. It was less than a drop in the sea among all those suffering thousands! Seemingly always more and more for the men were employed in the forests, building bridges, digging trenches, though many had been sent on.
Suwalki often hung by a hair---it was so nearly retaken by the Russians. At one time of such uncertainty, I was afraid to let the children go out, and I kept them in the balcony. An officer going by said something to a Russian prisoner employed in cleaning the gutter. The Russian, not understanding and naturally expecting a blow, cringed---raising his hand with the shovel to his head, I suppose seeking to protect his face. The officer pulled out his pistol and shot him dead, forbidding the body to be removed.
"Let the Russian dogs have a lesson!"
My children saw it all. In the night they thought of it, crying out. Their first question in the morning was if the Russian soldier had been buried. The poor body laid there until that officer was moved on with his regiment. It remained uncovered, and it was summer time. What would I not give to wipe that memory from my children's minds, the horror of that decaying thing at our door. Was it any wonder that one could hardly breathe the air? The peculiar sickish, sweet odour of war! How it permeated everything! It would have been better to keep the windows closed, had we dared, but the big guns talked too often.
So we endured---even with the ever-increasing number of dead lying about in the forests and swamps.
Before the war, one of the delights of the Polish summer had been the wonderful song birds---nightingales, larks by the thousands showering their exquisite, joyous melody from the clouds upon a people who worked hard but also knew how to be gay. Who that has seen a Polish "harvest-home" can ever forget it? The dancing of the peasants, wonderful and graceful, gallant and free like the song of the larks; it moved one by its spontaneity. Of all the birds, of all the varieties there remained only the carrion crows, hundreds of them---croaking hoarsely---filling one with horror and repulsion. The peasants said they were the spirits of the evil deeds committed about us. One could almost believe.
WANDA'S birthday, the 16th of June, came and went---marked only by a great fight in the trenches. Once more we were all keyed up to the thought of release; even I felt the moment had come. In vain our hopes! But still we thought before long the Russians would surely get in.
I pushed my calendar along to the 26th of June --our wedding day. Surely that would not go by without some news of each other---but it did! Also the 28th of June was the birthday of the twins. All went by. Gustav tried to celebrate the events for us, bringing little gifts for Wanda, and for me an unheard-of luxury---a piece of cheese! On the boys' birthday our kind doctor friend sent them a cake.
The heat came, heavy, oppressive. People died like flies. Dysentery raged. The road past our house, that road which led to East Prussia, led also to the cemetery---little no longer---no longer peaceful. There was one constant stream of peasant funerals, with now and then a more pretentious one with the priest. It was a common sight to see people carrying a rough box, with a bit of green upon it, or all wrapped up in a shawl, singing the song for the dead as they slowly and painfully went on their way. The wail of those voices still rings in my ears---supremely melancholy and hopeless. Hopeless for themselves---for the dead were rather to be envied. War had taken the sting away! Often I saw them resting by the roadside, saying prayers for the dead that the time be not lost, then going on till they reached the cemetery---where they must dig the grave. Hours after those people had passed, on their way to the cemetery we would see them returning, the cross-bearer going on before. That cross! Often it was only two pieces of wood bound together---there were not enough crosses in the church to serve the increasing number of funerals---and yet there had to be a cross.
The church was the only thing left to the people---they knelt round about the building in the dust of the street before it---a heart-breaking sight---those poor creatures---never talking much, now grown quite inarticulate. The crucified people! Even the children were still and quiet, and weak. I often wondered what they prayed for,---what the idea back of the telling of their beads was, and I came to the conclusion they were without thought,---just dumb and numbed with suffering, waiting for death to release them. That same mental attitude was in the air; every one felt so. Grey despair walked and sat with us; we had to fight not to be overpowered. How many there were who tired of the struggle, laying violent hands on their own lives;---daily we heard of someone who had gone in this way.
My enemy, the Bezirkschef, found many and various ways to increase the misery of the people. One law posted had the effect of making all men and boys keep off the streets, for they were ordered to salute their conquerors, standing motionless and bareheaded. No one dared sit in the park. Also terrible fines were laid upon the unfortunate one not at home before nine o'clock.
The people who had shops had to pay in assessments more than their stock was worth; and for the slightest reason they were turned out ruthlessly. The wines and brandies which the Germans had permitted various people to buy in Prussia were confiscated, "taken for the hospitals "!
Someone must have spent sleepless nights scheming out the various indignities inflicted upon the town. In a newspaper found on a prisoner just taken was the account of what had happened to a young school-teacher. Someone had escaped from all those who had tried---and carried news to the world beyond---telling a little of what was happening in Suwalki. This young girl had fallen a victim to the German soldiers; under horrible conditions she had taken her life. The Commandant sent for the old priest, the soldier messenger as a joke, I presume, telling him his ministry was needed for the dying. Hurried along the street in his robes the priest was astonished to find that it was only to the Commandant he was led. The Commandant told him there was no dying to minister to, only a paper to sign for the living---denying the case of the school-teacher. The priest told him it was true,---terribly true and did occur just as stated in the paper. The Commandant asked him if he were there; whether he saw the soldiers himself.
"Then you will either sign this paper or the church will be closed and you with the other priests sent to prison in Prussia."
The old priest, grown to be a saint of God, working and praying day and night to lessen the burden put upon his people, knowing what the Church meant to them, dared not bring this new misfortune upon them, and signed the iniquitous paper. I spoke to him once about it, trying to comfort him---telling him he could not help it. The suffering of the man was great; he felt he had been called upon to be a martyr and had failed. He had testified to the truth of untruth, forced so to do because of the dire calamity threatened.
The case of one of the Russian doctors was almost identical. This doctor, being a Pole, was detailed under escort to attend the sick in the town. In a hut beside the road leading to East Prussia lived a peasant and his wife. Beyond taking their food, horse and cow, and making the man dig in the trenches, nothing had happened. A child was born and the Russian military doctor was sent to attend the case, the woman being in a bad state. She recovered, however, and the child was three weeks old---when the soldiers had their license to celebrate a victory. . . . The hut lay close to the road. When the husband came home---he hanged himself, with the tiny baby dangling beside him. . . . The Russian doctor, who was a Pole, found all three when he came to see how his patient was. Overcome with horror and indignation he reported the case, saying it was a disgrace to the German army, and demanded punishment! Someone did get punished. The doctor! He received what they called "black arrest" and a two years' sentence at hard work in a prison, for criticizing the soldiers of the Kaiser!
After that the Russians were not permitted to visit the sick; instead the townspeople were forced to either pay five marks a visit or go without, which of course they did. Went without! Until another greater epidemic arose, then the people were driven like cattle to be inoculated for cholera.
THE 15th of July we were told prisoners were to get ten pfennigs a day, and a piece of bread! For the first time in all those weary months the fact that the captive soldiers were men was taken into consideration, and the burden of feeding them and being forced to look upon them taken from the townspeople.
Most of the prisoners were transferred to Prussia. We hoped it was better there. I was very glad when the news came of rations for the men---but as always my joy was short-lived---for the permission to feed them was taken from me. To feed a prisoner was a misdemeanour, to be punished by a fine and imprisonment. With ten pfennigs a day and a little chunk of hard bread, the men would not be better off, but worse---I knew how it would be; at the tiniest offence rations would be cut off.
Gustav still helped us along, but I dared not buy so much as at first, the store people only giving certain things and not over a stated amount. Once more food grew scarce in the town. I was more fortunate than any one else, but from day to day I wondered if on the next we should have proper food.
As people in the town were feeling the pinch of hunger I felt called upon to share what we had. The men, Pan W. and the engineer, came very often for dinner. We ate silently except for the children; sensitive little things, they also were more silent than before the war. One person I always sent food to was the aunt of an acquaintance of ours, a judge. The poor lady had decided to stop when the town was evacuated, thinking the Russians would soon be back. She had plenty of funds, and should have been comfortable. The very first day of the Prussian occupation the house was looted and occupied by the common soldiers. They took her maid, who was the only creature left her after the evacuation, and through fear of what was going on about her the poor lady had a stroke of paralysis. Alone and helpless, how sad was her case. I wished to take her to my house where she would not be alone, but of course was not allowed to do so.
Gustav told me to stop letting the two men come to meals. The engineer was the pet suspect of the Bezirkschef. Our friend, the man in whose house the meeting for the organization of the typhus hospital had taken place, was in prison. He had been pulled out of bed in the middle of the night and carried away. Gustav brought a piece of sausage to me one day---about it was wrapped a piece of paper---"The order of the day" from the Commandanture. I naturally looked through it with interest. A long list of things confiscated and people punished. Z-----ski, sentenced to five years' imprisonment at hard labour. I was so overcome by the news that it was difficult to keep calm. I sent my cook to get what news she could of the poor man. She came back with the information that he had returned to his house---that the case was finished! Thinking the matter over carefully, I decided to run the risk of going to our friend Z-----ski, telling him what I had read. My cook, after hearing my plan, grew almost hysterical. About five o'clock I went on my errand, walking through the sultry streets, looking neither to the right nor the left. It was hot, and the air heavy with the odours of war; the misery of the time dragged like a leaden weight upon mind and feet.
When I got to Z-----ski's house where a soldier was on guard, I found him sitting before a table with vacant eyes-staring into space. He recognized me finally, and almost a smile came to his lips. He asked me how the children were, poor man! Somewhere he had three children and a very pretty wife. His old servant was fussing about, and begged me to persuade her master to take a hot bath which she had prepared for him. Getting rid of her I asked him what he had been told when released.
I asked him if he knew a soldier was on guard?
I had to tell him what I had learned, begging him if there were any message for his wife to give it to me---also telling him to keep quiet and think of all he wished to tell me.
He struggled bravely, saying it could not be true---he had done nothing wrong---as if that were necessary! He had only given money to the officers taken prisoners. He could not believe the information was correct.
I begged him to realize his position---lest the enemy take him unawares. He started to write to his wife---stopped and tore it up.
"You tell my wife! Tell her I loved her, and now shall never see her again. My sons must understand the fate of their father---they are Poles." He spoke like a man drowning---gasping for air. I thought he would die before my eyes, wondering idly if I should do wrong not to aid him, thinking of the blessed relief death would mean.
Suddenly he told me there was something he wished to give me---that the Germans should not get it,---money, taking from a hiding-place a great pile of bills! As he was counting it a soldier on guard came in asking what we were doing. I told him quite simply the gentleman was lending me some money as my funds were running low---showing him---he left us, satisfied---and I found that there were 1500 roubles and three thousand marks, putting the money into my bag. We spoke together with difficulty. I noticed how his eyes travelled from one object to another---staring but unseeing. After awhile he told me not to worry too much about him---his heart was weak, the end would come soon---sooner than the war would end, or the Russians retake Suwalki!
I looked at him wondering if that wife of his---somewhere---would recognize her husband in the white and broken old man before me. I remembered the first time I ever saw them both, at a ball in Suwalki less than two years before, she pretty, gay, exquisitely dressed. He gallant, with hair black as night---with the "grand manner" of the Polish noble. I had admired his wonderful dancing of the mazur.
Presently I told him we would eventually succeed in getting out. My faith had not wavered, else the days would have been impossible to live through. Some day I would deliver both messages and money to his wife which in the meantime I was glad to have. We clasped hands, gazing silently at each other. The next morning he was taken into East Prussia, and I was told to keep strictly at home.
IN THE RUSSIAN HOSPITAL
MANY people in the town were punished for the same reason Z-----ski was. Four Russian officers and two soldiers had attempted to escape! We found out when the fines and imprisonments were generously passed around! The soldiers were shot down, and one of the officers was caught; but three either reached their own lines, or were killed in the woods. One of them had been betrothed to a girl in Suwalki. She knew nothing of the plan, but that did not matter. Twice led out to face the firing squad threatened---the girl was finally thrown into prison; then sentenced to ten years at hard labour. With her, various young people were also sentenced, her acquaintances getting from two to five years each. One brave little woman, a teacher of her native language, French, defied all orders, going about to gather a little money for those who had to start for their Prussian prison. They who had so little themselves were always ready to help the still more unfortunate.
How many from just our small town of Suwalki are wearing their hearts out in Prussian prisons---people who have done absolutely nothing, unless to be Polish, and to be alive, is a crime.
The Russian hospital was given a new surgeon-in-chief, the doctor who had operated upon my little boy's finger. He, the incarnation of Schrecklichkeit, too hard and cruel to be longer tolerated in the German hospital, was given charge over the Russians. Could worse misery come upon the defenceless men? When I learned this, there were a number of officers sitting about my table drinking coffee. They told it as a good joke that this brutal man had been appointed, laughing uproariously that his first demand had been for a larger Leichen Halle (morgue). Congratulating each other upon the fact that there would soon be fewer prisoners.
Not long after this new chief was set over them, a Polish lady came to see me, showing me the marks of his hand upon her face. Serving as a nurse some especial piece of brutality had been too much for her. She spoke! with the result the doctor struck her violently across the face, knocking her down. This same lady told how she had used the expression "Pray God the war will soon be over." The surgeon-in-chief said she was praying on the wrong side; her prayers could not be answered!
Another doctor, a Herr Professor, was about as bad. A wounded officer needed an immediate operation---the amputation of a leg. The Herr Professor called upon refused to operate without a fee of two hundred marks. The officer had no money, or very little, and by the time the other officers and sisters in the lazarette had signed a promissory note, gangrene had claimed its own! It was too late---the officer died.
One day two ladies came to me to help them get food for the wounded once more. There was so much typhus and no milk, nor, in fact, anything except pea-soup. We were forbidden to help, but thought there were ways of getting around the difficulty. I gave them twenty-five roubles and a quantity of pudding-powder, which they carefully concealed. They had no sooner gone than my cook told me an officer who spoke Polish had questioned her---asked her what the ladies wished. My cook was clever enough to say she did not know; but hastened to tell me of the circumstances. Of course I sent her instantly to warn the ladies that they were watched---and that time the Bezirkschef did not catch any one!
I kept very quiet, hoping against hope for some change, but no answer came to my petition, and I knew as long as my enemy was at the head there was no possibility of release. Bad news came to us from the world. We heard the Russians were in retreat; but about us the fight was still going on. Once more the Great Man was there, directing the line of defence. I was told by an officer the orders were to take Kalvarya at all costs. The Russians had a battery of guns on top of the little hill, and the Germans could not get by. This was a point just beyond Suwalki. Tremendous reinforcements arrived, among them the "Black Bavarians," they who, it is said, never delivered prisoners given into their charge. "The prisoners got tired," they would say. And regiment after regiment tried to storm the hill. Why the senseless waste of -human life, no one knew. It was the high order! An officer, telling me of the dreadful slaughter, said the swamps about Kalvarya were as thick with dead as a Christmas cake with currants---and, after all, they did not get the Russians, for they withdrew!
THE PRUSSIAN TREATMENT OF THEIR OWN
IT was not only the captives who suffered. I have seen many a German soldier beaten, knocked about! They were all around us---one had to observe! I used to be sorry for the men in the hospital, the rules were so rigid, the sisters' duties seeming to consist in scrubbing the floors rather than in making life a little easier for the wounded men. A Pole, from Posen, among them, once begged me for a book to read. Others heard of it, and more books were demanded. I still had various bookcases, aside from those the chickens roosted upon in the library. It got to be a habit that the wounded soldiers, our enemies, came to look through my books. They often would sit down, longing, as always, to talk, inevitably showing me some photograph of wife and child or sweetheart, each one speaking longingly of the end of the war.
At rare intervals I visited the hospital. Once from my balcony I witnessed the following. The chief of the hospital in our house came along, reading a paper; he called an orderly to give the order that all patients who could walk be mustered in front of the hospital. This was done, the men, in their grey and white striped garments, hobbling out. The chief then told them he was ordered to send every man who was sufficiently recovered to wear a uniform to report for duty. Among the men was one who had no wound apparently, only his neck was bound up. Spoken to, his voice could not be heard in reply. The surgeon-in-chief asked him why he spoke so. The poor fellow struggled to speak louder. The chief raised his hand, striking the voiceless man upon the mouth, knocking him flat on the ground. After he had picked himself up, the chief once more told him to speak. This time the voice had quite gone, and the soldier was let go, with the remark: "Now I believe you cannot speak!"
So many men were killed at the taking of Kalvarya that even the sanitary orderlies from the hospitals were called for duty in the trenches. One in the hospital under my roof was a young violinist. I had often spoken with him, and he brought candles to me whenever he could. His career was just beginning when the war broke out. Not yet in the army, he volunteered for the sanitary service; very nervous, sensitive, it struck terror to his soul when called out for the trenches; and he drank essence of vinegar to make himself ill. Somehow or other it was found out, or, at least, suspected. The boy was disgraced and beaten. Really ill, after the questioning he was put to bed in a room directly under my bedroom. Feeling death near, finally a confession was wrung from him; after that all were forbidden to go near him, even to give a drink of water. Shut in by himself in that big room, his voice echoed weirdly, begging, pleading for mercy, for a drink of water. One of the German sisters got hysterical at the sound, and I thought she would also be beaten. Two days and nights we heard him, moaning, whimpering, sometimes screaming horribly. I tried to console myself with the thought that he was delirious. Quieted at last by the death he had prayed for, we saw how the body was brought out, clothed only in a shirt, thrown on a peasant's wagon, dragged by two Russian soldiers. The German soldiers were ordered out to see how a traitor was served. After a long harangue, the Russians, under the care of a German soldier, started for the place of burial.
Thinking is seemingly forbidden to the German soldier. The utmost severity controls. Only at intervals they are given license and as much as they wish to drink, and encouraged to do the most terrible things. That is why the people in occupied territory have so hard a lot. The curious part of it is, they always wish to be praised. They will take your furniture, pack it up, and expect you to stand entranced with their "chic" way of doing it. Nothing is so hard to bear as the scorn with which people not Germans are regarded. Nothing is sacred! I was surprised at the German priest imitating the singing of peasants and priest, holding them up to ridicule, singing mockingly the words supposed to be so sacred.
One day this German priest was holding a service for the soldiers in the trenches, near Wigry, when the Russians began to drop grenades on them!
There was a scattering to the four winds of his congregation! For the remarkable bravery displayed in not letting a piece of shell strike him, this priest received the Iron Cross! And, of course, he came to celebrate the occasion in my house!
AFTER THE FALL OF WARSAW
WE constantly heard rumours of the triumph of the German armies. One afternoon the bells began their horrible din! And we knew a new misfortune was heaped upon the head of poor Poland. The day was hot and breathless, the smell of war sickening, overpowering. How glad, I was the windows were shaded from the fierce rays of the sun. They could not say I closed the blinds at the sound of German victory, inflicting a fine upon me. The children were in the garden with my cook and Gustav. I wished they were at home; the sound of the bells was so difficult to bear alone. Looking out behind the curtain, I saw Pan W., the Polish nobleman, who was slightly deformed, coming towards my door. Quickly going down the stairs to let him in, we met without a word. His face was enough. I knew before he spoke that Warsaw had fallen---Warsaw, where his wife and young daughters were.
We went upstairs together. He throw himself down in a chair, burying his face in his hands, a pitiful figure. The bells kept up their clamour as if they never intended to leave us in quiet again. After a long time, my visitor raised his head. "If the bells would only stop ringing! Oh, Warszawa, Warszawa. " He spoke as if the words strangled him, bursting into sobs which shook his whole body---and I was glad, knowing the relief that tears would bring to him. We, the unfortunate ones, did not need to hide our feelings from each other.
After awhile the children came in. Gustav, with the delicacy denied most of his superiors, went off without a word. Wanda, with the unerring instinct of childhood, went to sit upon my visitor's knee, asking him why he cried. "Because I have two little girls, and do not know where they are," he told her. The children had made him put aside the thought of Warsaw for a moment, and we talked of my prospects of getting away.
When the armies were withdrawn from Suwalki, the people would starve, surely. Black days were coming. The next day I went to see the "Presidial Rat" once more. He told me my papers had been examined by the "Head Command" of the army, but there was small chance of the permission requested being given. They thought I had seen, and knew, too much; my sympathies were too outspoken. Also, there must be certificates telling the reason of my remaining in Suwalki---that my children really had been ill of typhus at the time. It should have been easy to get such a statement, only I had to beg that brutal man, the present surgeon-in-chief of the Russian hospital, to give it me. I instantly wrote a note to him, asking him to call; and Gustav delivered it. This time, being less busy, he came quickly. I told him quite frankly what was necessary, and why; and also, that for the time spent in helping me I would pay at the rate of small operations. He said he wanted fifty marks---in advance! I gave it him, and he went off, telling me he would do all in his power to aid me, even to calling upon the Bezirkschef. Before he went, he told me of a few bits of furniture of mine he would like, really choice things, which I had kept close about me. Anything to keep him on my side! What mattered a little furniture now! Three days after he returned in quite a different mood! Some of the various diplomatic notes had been exchanged with America, about the submarines, and the Germans were furious! He told me he had written the certificate, but it would do no good; I would never get out, and might thank my own country for it. America was holding a knife to Germany's throat, etc.! He called us all sorts of names and included the whole Anglo-Saxon race.
I listened with calmness to his frenzy, for I would rather have his blame than his praise.
There were fewer prisoners now, less for me to do, and for a day or two I allowed myself to be ill and went to bed. It only made things worse for the children; besides, if I really gave in, it was the end of us! I must make the most tremendous effort of all just now. So, once more the burden was shouldered.
News came to us continually of some new triumph for the Germans; the bells clanged it into our ears. I think that for every bridge or hut they took the bells were rung! The nights were dark with the early darkness of the North. We had no light. It was cold and wretched, and there was no fuel. We saw daily the great loads of trees from our forests cut down and made into logs, carted into East Prussia, often with loads of furniture. I do not know where it came from. No more was in the houses, unless the officers had been using it. There was a tremendous search for metals, the peasants hiding what they might have in the earth rather than give it up for bullets to shoot their own men down with. When we heard such a search was to take place, which meant that all handles, knobs on doors and furniture, window fastenings---everything which could be considered metal---would be collected, I feared my papers might be discovered. It was a possibility some officer might decide to take my bedroom furniture for himself! Through a peasant woman, devoted to the family, I got my papers away, and buried deep down in the earth, in two iron pots, one turned inside the other as a cover, all bound up in a mackintosh. They were buried under the place where the pigs used to root. The pigs were no more, but the pig pen yet stood. There our papers still rest, waiting for Suwalki to be taken once more. I believe that Suwalki will again be ours and that we shall recover our documents.
NOTICES were posted by the commandant regarding the harvests---"That any one touching or using any grain, potatoes, or vegetables from his own gardens or fields, would be punished to the full extent of the law---military law!" It was further stated that all crops would be gathered under military supervision.
I think tears of blood fell from the eyes of the people when they were told of this. It seemed just the last straw. After the long hot summer, hungry, but working with the feeling that at least something would be in store for the winter---to have it all taken away! Especially, were they amazed to find how cleverly they had been compelled to buy back their own grain, paying twenty-five marks a measure,---to plant the crops which were now taken away. I remember one old peasant who came to me, puzzling over this fact---"Are there no gentlemen in Prussia, to deceive poor people so?" he asked. Then, with true peasant philosophy, shrugging his shoulders, "If they do take my little crop, it will do them more harm than they do me. God does not forget." They did take the crops, to the last bean and potato.
Few could rise to the philosophy of that one old man. All had gone a step farther on the road to obliteration,---and many hanged themselves, putting an end to their sufferings.
Not long afterwards there was another proclamation---this time about dogs, also signed by the commander of the army. Ten marks to pay for the keeping of a dog! Most had by this time disappeared. I had chloroformed many; it was so wretched to see the creatures going about hungry, and to feed dogs when so many starving human beings were about, was impossible. The dogs remaining were the especial pets, companions in misery, like our little Dash. The two little puppies, Dash's babies, had been taken by officers. The children cried their eyes out about losing them but Dash we clung to! I paid the tax to keep our true friend, but few others in the town could. The animals taken were not tenderly put to death. I was told about it with horrid details by a soldier, who was indignant over the whole thing; but he was a Pole, and could not enter into such amusements.
One more notice posted was about people to work in East Prussia; all able-bodied individuals had to report. As they did not do so, the soldiers were sent to take them from the houses. With great difficulty, I begged my cook off, even going so far as to request permission to keep her, from the police.
It was a cruel sight to see those sorry bands of people---not only peasants---driven through the town to the station on the way to East Prussia. Families which up to that time had clung together, were now mercilessly torn asunder. A man, escaping by offering to point out some spot where houses had stood before the war, drove back from East Prussia, and from him I heard what was happening to our people. The women and girls were housed, the men sleeping on the ground at a distance. What happened I cannot tell---but that man, speaking slowly, mournfully, told me how the night was often torn with the screams of the women. Their huts also lay close to the road which led into East Prussia---far, far in---and the men were not allowed to go to the defence of their own women, to protect them from the troops marching, always marching, into Poland.
After the fall of Warsaw, we knew the Germans were trying to trap the Russians near Suwalki. Great numbers of troops once more were about us. We heard of the Russian retreat. At least, they were not caught by the German "Nippers"! One day we heard Sejny was taken, and after that, every day we were told of new gains. The military merely passed through Suwalki now; food grew alarmingly scarce, and the town was so quiet. After the continuous battles all those months, we felt the stillness even more oppressive and hopeless.
Gustav came to tell me the day after the fall of Kovno, that all the men stationed in Suwalki were to be moved on. We had lost our military significance! My enemy, the Bezirkschef, had been detailed to crush the people in some Courlandish county taken by the Germans. Poor people! they had my sympathy, but we were glad to get rid of him! Nothing else could be quite so bad!
I was sorry to lose Gustav, who wept bitterly at parting from us---wondering who would help me over the bad spots.
Many officers came to say good-bye to us, among them the surgeon-in-chief of the Russian hospital! Loss of military significance had some benefits! He wished to be nice---to speak to the children, but they would have none of it. He even looked at Wladek's finger, pronouncing it good, and only a tiny "fault in his beauty!" He advised me to settle down without further thought of escape. I often wonder if that man has been permitted to live, going further on his merciless way.
As soon as the troops left, we began to feel the pinch of necessity. Everything was taken---there was often nothing to buy, except rum. That there was in plenty! One Jewess actually came to me to beg help in getting a permit to open a tavern. I told her "No, but I would ask for permission to close it!" It did not help much. She got her license, as did many others also. Drunkenness was part of the daily life of the town. With no food, and only the soup in small portions served the town by our committee, the pennies could buy a temporary relief and forgetfulness. Thus was the crowning injustice put upon the people; they were debauched.
A few days of bad food, and all of my children fell ill with dysentery. Of course they could not eat black bread after typhus. The doctor who had been always our kind friend came to see us. He was soon to go, also. He used the cholera serum on the children, and for a few days the poor little things were very ill. Wanda and Wladek recovered in a degree, but Stas grew worse. I was once more fighting death for my boy. Oh the misery of those days! It comes over me in a flood only to think of it. Night and day---night and day---always the same. The child grew transparent from the constant loss of blood, just a little moaning atom!
Something broke down in me those days. I had come to the point where I knew if we were not released it meant giving up my children; and now I wished to give them up rather than see them suffer. Perhaps that was just why I had failed. I had clung to them so desperately, calling on them not to leave me. They had been left to me, but now I was willing to leave the decision to the Higher Power, not forcing things my way. Looking Death in the eyes, one loses the fear of Him.
Our kind friend, after giving Stas the third hyperdermic injection of cholera serum, pronounced the verdict of life for him---if we could get away! As he stood looking at my boy, he said, "You have got to be let go. It is inhuman to keep you longer. Try once more for permission to go to Berlin. You have your Ambassador there." I told him there was as yet no reply to my last petition. It had been promised soon.
Stas lived and on my birthday, the 28th of August, the kind doctor was sent on, away from Suwalki! He came to say good-bye, the two children, hanging on him; they loved him. To me, he wears a halo! How much he had done to lighten the burdens, not only for me, but for the whole town! While he was there, saying good-bye to us, a soldier came with the final refusal of my petition. It was a hard blow, but I just would not accept its finality. If God saved my boy's life the second time, when I was ready to give him up, it surely meant that we were to be released! Then and there I once more went to the Civil Government. The "Presidial Rat" was surprised at my persistency; he felt there was no use in it; but he finally consented to send another petition, this time asking permission to travel to Berlin, there to enquire if it were possible to go to America. In the office was a wonderfully kind man, a lieutenant, who told me this time he would help me. Surely we would be freed. A day which seemed to be all darkness was turning bright. I went back to my boy with a little hope for the future. He was so weak as hardly to breathe. I had a bottle of red wine, and fed him a drop at a time. Perhaps before he needed food we should be on our way!
THE days went by, full of cares, for the three children were difficult to provide for; but God had raised up a new friend---the lieutenant! a gentleman, kind and tender-hearted. When I asked for a doctor at the Magistrat, he sent one, and food for the children, too---a whole half loaf of greyish white bread! I was all packed. I think my cook and other people, also, thought I was mad, that my brain had been turned with the uncertainty as to the whereabouts of my husband, and the horrors we had lived through. The old priest came to talk to me, persuaded by what he heard of my preparations, that all was not right. I told him I was "sure, sure, sure of release---nothing could hold us." He shook his head, saying I was "either mad or a saint with a vision."
I was neither, only a mother, determined to rescue her children.
Once more Stas was a little worse, and that day a portion of our food was not sent to the paralysed lady. It had daily been carried, and the omission was an oversight with which I had little to do. That, however, did not lessen my condemnation when the next morning a soldier handed me a note, saying it had been found beside the dead body of the lady who wrote it. The pity of those few lines, saying "she had heard I really was leaving; and, after living through one day without a friend, had decided to end all. Every one in the town was as badly off as she was---there was no hope. God knew the weight of sorrow and misery laid upon Poland, and would forgive her. Purgatory had been upon the earth. She had no fear of what was to come." With loving wishes of better days for us, and greetings and blessings for the townspeople, she had signed herself grandly, as in the old days. The soldier told me someone going to see her had found her hanging in the wardrobe.
I was heart-broken; after all those months, to have forgotten. My cook grew hysterical when she heard of it, saying the two children had eaten an egg apiece, as I was too busy and troubled over Stas to eat, she had followed my example. As she put it, "The food had been saved for the next day." For the poor paralysed woman there was no next day.
The days went by until the 6th of September. At the end of a grey day, when my courage had snapped off, a soldier came to me with the order to instantly report at the city offices. It did not take long for me to dress! Walking through the town in the early dusk, the place struck a chill. It was full of the living dead. Though dark and cold, no smoke curled from the chimneys, no lights shone from the windows. One more night of darkness to be lived through.
Arriving at the offices, I was received with great ceremony, conducted instantly to the "Herr Presidial Rat," who greeted me impressively, saying, "I have your permission to travel to Berlin. There you can see for yourself if you can get further permission to travel to America! I cannot understand why the permission was given now after so many refusals." I told him "because it had to!" Then, asking how soon we could leave, he told me as soon as I was ready! What glorious news; to be allowed to get on a train and travel to freedom! After telling me that a man would come to take our photographs the next morning and prepare various papers, I said "good-evening. "
It was a different woman went down those stairs! I wanted to sing and dance! Out on the streets I was glad it was dark. My joy almost shamed me.... Reaching home, when my cook met me I laid hold of her, forcing her to dance, most protestingly, calling on all the saints! The children were astonished, but willing to be glad, as mammy was! Little Stas calling out from his crib, in a tiny, weak voice, "It is good mammy is glad."
My cook thought I was mad---that the end had come. When she finally understood we were really going, she sat upon the floor with her apron over her head, crying, howling! That made me cry, too, and, of course, then the children joined in---the very thing to bring me to my senses! I fed them, soberly, bathed them, and put them to bed, for children must be put to bed, whatever happens.
The next day a soldier came to photograph us, and the kind lieutenant also came---to congratulate me, and to give me advice about various things, telling me while on the journey to speak "neither Polish nor English, only German." I asked him, "What about the children!" "The children must understand the danger. They know how to speak German."
I was to have three papers aside from my passport. One given me as a much appreciated kindness, addressed to the German Red Cross, recommending "Sister Laura von Turczynowicz, a member of the Polish Red Cross, and chief committee in Warsaw," to their care; that they should help me in any way needed.
The second paper testified that we all had typhus in February and March. The third, a literal translation---" This is to certify by Frau Professor Laura von Turczynowicz and her three children is no danger of carrying lice." Yes, there was the odious word, signed by the official physician. Oh, it might have been worse. They might have sent us to be disinfected!
There would be no train until the following Sunday, the 12th, for troops were being drawn out of Poland and sent to the West Front. A long wait, but better---Stas was too weak to travel. I would have to carry him, for no nurse was allowed me. My cook had to remain---the faithful creature! I had to go alone---not even thinking about it---though before the war we had been surrounded with servants. When the children were naughty we had wondered that their governess had such a bad method with them! Well---I knew now.
Fig. 8. A Curious "Sanitary Passport" Issued to the Author by the Germans
The news got out in the town. People came to see me. It made one feel so selfish. One day the official doctor suggested that we should take a little drive to get Stas once in the air before the journey. A doroszka which had been driven to Grodno in the time of evacuation stood in its old place. It was curious to get into a vehicle once more. The coachman told me he had seen my husband in Vilno in March. He had driven him from the station. It was my first word! This man told me also the company of children with our governess had arrived in Vilno after an interminable, dangerous journey. He did not know of their whereabouts.
We drove a little way from Suwalki. I wondered why we did not come to the woods of Augustowo---but then understood. The woods were all gone---graves, myriads of graves, instead. I begged the man to turn around; it was too much to bear. The town, in its desolation, was not much better---roofless houses, and windowless---and doorless; no animals, no people, and no children! They were gone---wiped out! It was better to be at home with the door shut. There I made also a pilgrimage to say good-bye to the old house, our palace! Most of it I had not seen in months, and now I am sorry I looked upon it in its desecration.
The old priest came to see me--solemn and full of warnings. Before he left, he understood that for me the risk was no more to go than to stay. He blessed us, sending us on our way, telling me not to forget them when I got out into the world, and to send them help. I promised---a promise yet unfulfilled, because I could not.
The last visitor I had was Pan W. He had much news from Warsaw. A Jew had managed to travel from Warsaw to Suwalki, bringing him news. His wife was in the Russian Red Cross, he heard, and the daughters safe in the depths of Russia. In Warsaw the conditions were the same as we had. The President of our Central Committee, who called upon the conqueror of the city, instead of being received, was thrown into prison as a hostage.
Pan W. was a little happier, though terribly apprehensive for me. I insisted on giving him a hundred roubles, for I was going out into the world, while he was a poor prisoner! Asking also what else I could do, hearing for the first time that he and his sons slept without pillows or covering. He said in a mild voice, "It was cold and hard." I fell into a perfect fury with the war! Why should we suffer such things? That man and his sons were literally facing cold and starvation. How long would a hundred roubles last?
THE 12th of September we started on our journey! Just one year before we had arrived in Vilno, after the first evacuation of Suwalki. Well I did not know then what was waiting for me, to be lived through, moment by moment.
That night I did not go to bed, but sat talking with my true and tried friend, the cook. Even then she tried to make me change my mind, being sure the Germans would do such frightful things to us. We were all ready and waiting, when a soldier came at seven to fetch us. I hardly glanced at our old house, now almost bare of furniture---it meant nothing for me, only suffering! We got into a carriage, belonging to the Red Cross, and started. The last vision was my piano in the garden---the leg broken off, sagging at one side, the seams burst open, white from the rain and the sun.
I was glad no one was there to see us go---it would only make them feel their own lot more.
That drive to the station through the grey September mists, cold and uncomfortable, is one not easily forgotten. We found the station surrounded by troops who were to travel by the same train. A few of them crowded about, trying to speak to the children. I was no longer in uniform, and perhaps they thought we were not Polish! The lieutenant was there, presenting the captain who was to have charge of us to Margrabowa. I spoke once more to my cook, telling her to be careful of her money, that no one find it. Also to deliver the money I had left for the Russian hospital; not much, but enough to buy a week's milk. I saw my boxes---three---were with us, and at last knew I was on the road. No one intended to hold us back! The little dog Dash seemed to know something was happening. I told the cook where a bottle of ether stood---and how to use it if there came a time when there was no food for Dash.
The officer in charge told my cook to go---it was time-and I was all alone with my three children, going into a hostile country. As the train steamed out, the children caught sight of Pan W., gallantly waving his hat to speed us on our way---I wish I knew if he lived through the winter.
Over the despoiled country we went; no forests and no houses---everywhere prisoners were working. The captain who had us in charge was so tired he could hardly speak. Six weeks he had been on the move, with his men. I had noticed the men,---grey, young-old---with lined and wearied faces.
Finally reaching Margrabowa, East Prussia, we were taken from the military train to the station, for the papers had to be examined. In the station, we were huddled up in a comer; there was not even a chair to sit upon, though I held Stas in my arms ---the other little children clung to me, for they were frightened. We waited and waited, gazed at curiously by a lot of quite common people gathered there---mostly women and girls in their "Sunday clothes"---waiting for the sanitary trains to bring the wounded. The children got restless, their little legs ached. I whispered to them to sit on the floor. After a while, almost dropping with fatigue myself, the children began to cry, to beg to go. I forgot, and said, "Hush dearies! the train is soon coming---be patient!" Some women back of us screamed "Engländerin" at me. I faced them saying, "No---Americanerin." "Alles gleich." (All the same). They began to throw things at us, to spit upon us. I gathered my children in front of me, covering them with my skirts---praying for the officer to come. He did come, after a century, it seemed to me, pushing our tormentors aside. "Take us quickly, Herr Offizier. I prefer your soldiers to your women!" When we got into the train I had to scrub off my coat and skirt.
A long day in the train, the children were miserable, a little hungry and thirsty. Stas was very weak. In the evening we reached Insterburg, there to change cars. We got a comfortable coupé, but were soon made to give it up, for a man fancied it. I was forced to yield, though holding a first class ticket. After an endless night we arrived in Berlin at six o'clock in the morning. At the station there were no porters and no cabs. The place where I had to stop was near by, fortunately, but I almost dropped before reaching it.
To one unaccustomed, it is difficult to carry a child, however light the child may be.
The "Hôtel" was a most awful hole, where the police kept constant watch. A young Russian interned there, the son of a wealthy Petrograd family, was forced to do porter's duty---and glad to do so, rather than be in a camp. We were shown into a room, musty---"shut up to keep the dust out," and after feeding the children---there was milk and eggs and butter---I was forced to leave them to report myself to the police.
Thereupon I started upon a weary round---Police Headquarters and Commandanture. I was told to communicate with my Embassy, and naturally went to the American! There to be told they could do nothing for me; I was a Russian! It was hard, that moment, because I had built upon having someone help me a little, at least. However, there was nothing to do, only go to the Spanish Consulate, as they directed me. There I was received with the utmost kindness---they told me not to worry, my passport would be issued!
Forced continually to notify the police where I was, it was difficult to do what was necessary. For instance, I had to go to the steamship office---constantly wondering what was happening to my children in the care of the woman who owned the "Hôtel!" Pitifully glad they were to see Mammy when I returned to them. That night the police captain from the district came to see if I were at home, and look through our things. Easy enough ---the trunks had not come.
The next morning the same weary round. But I was told about noon my passport would be given as soon as someone identified me---as an American citizen, before my marriage to a Russian Pole. My heart was in my boots, but a man from the American Consulate knew me. He said he had heard me sing The Star Spangled Banner at the American Thanksgiving dinner in Berlin about nine years back---the year before my marriage! It seemed too good to be true! I remembered that dinner, when I had sung to please the American doctor, a good friend, who had been disappointed in his soloist. My teacher, who was there with wife and daughters, persuading me, telling me I had a pretty dress, and could sing! That was to save us!---The Star Spangled Banner means more than a national hymn to me.
I got my passport, the Consul of Holland viséing it. He adjured me not to try to take anything through, not the tiniest paper. It would mean a fortress for me. Also asking me how I had been treated, telling me the consulate was a bit of Holland, therefore I dared to speak. I told him I was afraid---that the very walls had ears in Berlin. Once more I had to report at the Commandanture, where I was treated with extreme severity---questioned sharply---seeing others going through the same---English and Russians treated like dogs. Final1y I was told at eight o'clock the next morning my train left for Holland. That night, with all settled, I came back to my babies, at almost nine o'clock, tired enough to drop!
The children wished to talk and play after their supper, and I was glad to have a respite. Stas was better after the change of air. When I started to put the two to bed, Wladek wished to play---he did not know how tired his mammy was, and ran about the room, in and out, between those German beds with their feather mountains! The police captain opened the door, and I asked him to help me. He did---caught Wladek, talked to him, played a bit so that all the children got interested, and he undressed him, folding up the child's clothes in a neat little pile, while I just sat still and let him do it! He said: "I am very sorry for you, Madame. I have eight children of my own!"
After the children were asleep, I still had to pack, and rip up Wanda's Teddy bear, which contained some very necessary papers and letters. One was from the soldiers I had fed, telling different things, almost childish in its simplicity. A document or two I was thinking to get through, I destroyed them all, burning them up---once more sewing up Teddy's wound.
That night I did not lie down, haunted by the fear of missing the train. At last it was morning, and train time. We had food for the journey, even ham! Five marks a pound, butter four. A little of each, and bread, and marmalade. The Russian boy came to carry our things, and we spoke a moment together. He told me of the bread riot the day before, where the police had been called out. He could only write a few words to his parents, and always feared what might be done to him.
My bill rather staggered me, thirty marks a day! At last we were on the way. Good-bye to Berlin! I left there a lot of photographs which I never expect to see again, afraid to take them to the boundary. Another long day in the train---most of the time with the curtains down! just before Bentheim, I saw a party of English and Belgian prisoners working by the roadside. The train stopped, but they did not even look up---emaciated, ragged, without enough life left in them to feel interest in anything about them. I longed to help them, but must not even look as if I would ---it was too dangerous for us.
At Bentheim, thanks to my Red Cross certificate, I was taken first. They expected me, of course! We were undressed---every inch of skin examined by a woman who threw our clothes out to the officers on duty. It is humiliating to have one's hair combed for fear something might be written on the scalp. The children got very cross and insulted.
We looked like rag-bags after that examination---ragged, with the linings torn out of hats, boots, coats. I begged hard to keep the papers shown in Suwalki. They finally consented to send them to the steamer along with my prayer-book. My card plate and seal were also objects of suspicion ---but after much discussion, were also sent. The trunks had not arrived, and I was told they likely would not! Asked what they contained, I told them "furs, clothes, and linen"---" Furs and linen are confiscated in occupied territory." My clothes might be recovered after the war was over!
The poor children were so exhausted by the waiting in the station that when we finally got into the train, I hardly recognized that the last point of resistance was overcome---that in a few minutes we would be out of German territory! When we were actually in Holland, I was seized with such a violent fit of trembling, it seemed as if I would drop to pieces; but as usual, and my salvation, the children needed me, and were hungry.
We were free! To breathe free air once more---no longer told what to do and what not. To no longer see prisoners---helpless to help them. To have food---white bread for the children. What it all meant to me! Seven whole months of captivity had made me appreciate freedom. I was still without word from my husband, but now I could send a telegram to Petrograd, letting him know we were alive, though on our way, to America---for I had given my word.
THEY had told me in Berlin where to stop in Rotterdam, but it was far from my intention to do so---I wanted to be as far as possible from the sight of a German face, or the sound of a German voice. On the train, a gentleman, who was travelling with his three daughters, told me of a quiet hotel near the station. There, in that peaceful spot, with the windows overlooking the canal we had our first rest.
Arriving late at night, it was all I could do to get the children to bed with the help of the chamber maid. Oh! how tired I was, body and soul---my tears would flow---it was impossible to stop them. In the morning how strange it was to wake without that gripping sense of fear-fear of the Death which had been our companion through the months! My ill boy was so much better that he was able to stand on his feet, and a kindly porter carried him down to breakfast.
When the children saw heaps of rolls and honey they were delighted, Wanda asking me "if they might have as much as they wanted or if it was for tomorrow!" Poor little mites, after all they had gone through, what a delight it was to see them once more eating the food they needed and desired. In Suwalki we often had had enough food, for the time, but we had never known if it would be possible to buy more.
Immediately after breakfast, the porter accompanied us to the Russian Consulate, sitting in the fiacre with the children, and amusing them while I was busy. At last I saw Russians who were free! What a tremendous event that visit was for me! The Consul was most kind and sympathetic, immediately sending a telegram through the Foreign Office at The Hague, to Petrograd, with the information that we were all alive and well, and on our way to America. I gave as our address the Russian Consulate in New York. The Consul thought it would be well to wait in Rotterdam for an answer, but I felt the necessity of keeping my word to sail on the 18th.
Those three days in Holland were like bits of Heaven for me; the peace,---the quietness! I felt as if I were dreaming, that in no place in the world was such peace. It seemed curious to see everything standing where it should be, and order everywhere. For seven months I had lived without real privacy---there had never been a moment when someone, if he would, could not march in upon us sleeping or waking. After the crushing and grinding of the Prussian war machine, it took a little time to adjust one's thoughts and ideas.
There was one more visit to the Russian Consulate before sailing. This time I was able to think of the troubles of others, not only of our own, and reported the case of the Russian boy in Berlin, thinking thus to let the boy's parents know what was happening---also, of the hard lot of one of the Russian doctors. This doctor was a surgeon-general, captured near Wilkowiszki, just about the time Suwalki was taken. Made to work incessantly, without comfort of any description, the doctor had done his duty by the prisoners manfully, often raising his voice in protest over some especially glaring piece of brutality. He was terribly worn out and in bad physical condition when the order was issued that all in the town must be inoculated with typhus serum. The doctor, having had typhus, naturally refused. Thereupon, the German surgeon-in-chief of the Russian hospital, the man who had so brutally operated upon my little son's hand, ordered the soldiers to seize and hold him. The Russian begged to be inoculated upon the leg, but it was not permitted, the surgeon-in-chief inoculating him in the breast.
After having had such indignity put upon him, his clothes having been torn off by the soldiers holding him during the inoculation, the Russian doctor was tried by court-martial for insubordination, and because he said it was a disgrace to the German army to do such things, sentenced to two years at hard labour.
On the 18th of September, in the evening, we sailed from Rotterdam, leaving Holland, which had literally been a land of milk and honey for us. We had few clothes, for I feared to spend my money before hearing from my husband.
I was put to remarkable straits many times, being forced to wear my Red Cross uniform which had been in the week-end bag we were fortunate enough to bring through. On the steamer I found three photographs, my prayer-book, and the baptismal certificates of my children, sent from Bentheim by the German authorities.
Among the people on the voyage was an American Red Cross Unit returning from Germany. The sisters were so hopelessly pro-German there was small satisfaction in their companionship for me. The doctor from Columbus, Ohio, was not, and was a most kind friend all the long way over. He looked into the state of the children's health, finding all surprisingly well, and a need only for quiet for the nerves and proper food for the body. The doctor helped me over many difficult moments. The nearer we got to America the more alone I felt. I imagined all sorts of things; not a living soul knew where we were, whether we lived or not! The position was not an easy one for the mother of three small, helpless children.
Finally, the long journey was at an end, and on the dock some Germans met me, two women and a man. How they knew about me and my story has remained a mystery, but they did---offering effusively to help me---recommending an Hôtel, etc.! It struck a chill to my soul, that reception of theirs! That they should follow me, even in the Land of the Free! Perhaps it was a kindness after all, for I did not have time to think,---to contrast what had been and what was! The "Dear American Doctor," as the children called the Red Cross surgeon, had advised me to go to a certain Hôtel for "ladies," and we did so, just as fast as possible. We were a curiosity at that Hôtel! Where no man might come; mostly inhabited by ladies who would have been quite safe wherever they were. We were given a room on what I suppose is their "bomb-proof" floor, for there were many pianos played with varying skill, much singing, and a strong smell of cooking. But, I felt what a criminal thing it was to have three children. They looked at us so severely, and if one of the children made a sound someone knocked on the door. I wished then we were not in such a protected atmosphere. I would willingly have faced a German or two in preference. There had been a purpose in my direction to that Hôtel, however, for there I found a friend. If the "ladies' Hôtel " had been like others, I should have had a pitcher of ice water brought to my room. As it was, I had to fetch it for myself, taking all three children with me, not daring to leave them alone for fear they would fall out of the window. And there I met a friend! who immediately got someone to help me with my children, that I might be free to go about.
We went all together to see if a cablegram had come for us. None was there, and none came until the 15th of October. How long, endlessly long, that time seemed! I could not adjust myself to life in America. It was such a change! The big buildings, after living in devastated Poland, terrified me---it seemed as if an aeroplane must peep over the top of one and drop a bomb on us. The people in their hurrying rush tired me! After a while, when I began to meet people, and find my friends and relatives once more, their indifference was almost more than I could bear. I felt like crying out,---asking them if they realized what was happening over in war-ridden Europe,---begging them to send help to those with whom I had lived and suffered.
Someone asked me once how much to believe of the newspaper reports---how much to subtract from the sum of all they said! I answered, "Multiply by twenty, then you will have a faint idea of what is happening in Poland!" In Poland, the conqueror is without any restraint and lacks totally mercy or pity. There they fear no one, for none are there to report except those who look through the Prussian glasses. In Belgium, people see and know what is going on---they are not cut off from the world. But who knows of the executions, the imprisonments inflicted upon the Poles? Yet I know it is the daily meat and drink of the Kultur träger to punish, punish, punish! To grind the people into the earth---to stamp all semblance of humanity from their faces, so that they tremble at the sound of a Prussian boot. I often think of how the pet dogs were put to death in Suwalki---I have dreamed of it at night---what would hold them back from doing the same to the people? How many women have hung themselves rather than endure their shame. As if all this were not enough, the crowning injustice has been put upon the people; they are sold rum to finish them, lest one should escape! That was the only thing which was cheap when I left there. And the peasants were already sodden and stupefied with the stuff sold them; the privilege of selling, eagerly sought by the Jews, was looked upon as a sure source of revenue by the Germans.
Fig. 9. Stanislaw de Gozdawa Turczynowicz
Inspector General of Sanitary Engineers
Powerless to help, it is maddening for me to think of all that happens in Poland, for, under the present circumstances, no help is possible, nothing can reach them. Of what use is one tiny crumb of bread when all the crops are taken, the people turned into slaves? The women, those of them who have escaped a worse fate, are compelled to labour for the Prussians---made to wash for them, cook for them---even ladies do not escape! How hard is their lot, their children gone, swept away by disease and hunger. Yet many live on through the endless grey days, without light, without fuel, in hopeless misery. If a thought of release stirs them, breaking the grey monotony, if some rumour comes to them that the Germans are "getting it," their lot is infinitely more dreadful. For their momentary vision of release, how great the price!
In this great, free America, under the protection of the "Star Spangled Banner," which saved our lives in the country of the enemy, I constantly think of those people in Poland---that gallant country, the martyr of the ages! Has she no right for "the pursuit of happiness"? I believe her day is coming! Those who have lived through the terror of Death and devastation shall see their country rise from the ashes of her burned homes. There will be only a great emptiness, with no forests, no homes except the roofless empty ruins, dotted about the country. I doubt if even Warsaw will escape, when the day comes, as it inevitably must, that the Kultur träger hurries towards his own borders, there to intrench, lest the destruction they have brought upon others be meted out to them.
As for the Poles, they have the wonderful Slavonic nature; those who live will quickly respond to the best medicine in the world---Hope! Let them only have a chance! In my vision of the future I see them, patiently building, working, even dancing once more the mazur! For they have a wonderful quality as a people.
This is the only thought which helps me to live through these days of war, knowing the near and dear ones of my husband are going through horrors similar to those my children and I suffered, only worse. For his mother and sisters, there in a spot far distant from Suwalki, cannot call upon the "Star Spangled Banner" for protection.
As for us, here in America so blessed of God, we are waiting the end of the war. Protected and kept through so many dangers and trials, I know we shall be reunited.
The war must end sometime!
We have grown to be very patient, making few demands on life. Few? Ah no! We ask the only things worth having or living for! Peace and health, and to be reunited with those we love!
To be with those we love, to serve those about us, that is all there is in life! Possessions do not matter, we can live without them, but. every human being needs Peace---Peace of soul and country.
Fig. 10. Facsimile of the Polish Red Cross Certificate
Fig. 11. Facsimile of Russian Red Cross Certificate (Reverse of Above)
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