Michał Głowiński, born in 1934
I knew I was sentenced to death
I arrived in Turkowice late in February 1944, during Lent. I write “during Lent” because there, the main measure of time was the church calendar. It was not my first stay with the nuns. Earlier, I had stayed briefly with the Felician Sisters in Otwock, and later, for even a shorter time, in Czersk. In a shelter on Baudouin Street (in Warsaw) where I was placed for a few days, Sister Hermana appeared and took a group consisting of about fifteen children to Turkowice.
We traveled a long time. We sat on wooden benches, crowded, frozen, huddled closely together. We changed trains in Hrubieszów which was connected to Turkowice by a narrow-gauge railway. As for boys, there were perhaps over a hundred in the institution, divided into three groups. The first group, consisting of children from the Lublin area, was led by Sister Józefa. The second group was in the care of Sister Longina who would soon perish so tragically. In charge of the third group, composed of children from Warsaw and vicinity, was Sister Róża. This is the group in which I was placed.
Each group had its own large room in which it stayed during the day and its own room for sleeping. Class instruction took place in the cellar or half-basement, but, during this time, anyway, there was almost none. The role of the teacher was performed by the stern and not always likable Sister Alojza.
It was difficult for me to enter into this world. I was an only child who, until the moment of leaving the ghetto had not been separated from his parents. We walked out, if I am not mistaken, on January 2, 1943. For the first few days, I was together with my father and my mother, then later only with Mother. We were hiding in the country until the beginning of December of that year.
My institutional-religious epic started at the beginning of 1944, but only in Turkowice did I enter into the hell of a horde of children. I was not suited for it, and I was very afraid of everyone and everything. However, this is poorly phrased. I was not afraid of the nuns. I knew they were rescuing me and that I would experience nothing bad from them. Mostly, I was afraid of my age-mates, that they would denounce me. I knew that I was different, that I was a Jew, and was therefore someone condemned to death. This I learned very quickly. I knew that I must not tell anything about myself just as I knew I must not undress in anyone’s presence, so that no one would see “it.” And this fear did not leave me in Turkowice for one moment.
Paralyzed by fear and shyness, I did not make friends with anyone. And I immediately revealed that I was different. An important element of our life were the communal prayers and religious singing, not only in the chapel, but also in the room in which we spent our time. (The small wooden church, which stood next to the buildings of the institution and had had a rich history during the war years, was closed at that time.) Prayers before every meal, long prayers and singing, morning and evening, were in accordance with the liturgical calendar.
I did not know the texts. Everybody knew them (including the Jewish boys, quite numerous, who had resided in the institution a longer time), but not I. I mumbled something under my breath so that it would seem that I was reciting these prayers and songs like all the others; I dissembled. My memory, quite functional in various areas, had a flaw; it could not cope with the texts. I was not able to master them, to be able to recite them without stumbling. This dissembling by me did not go unnoticed. It was spotted, and it created no doubts. Who does not know religious songs? Obviously, a Jew. My fellow groupmates already suspected who I was.
At this time, I would like to say that the pretending during prayers was limited entirely to the texts; it did not extend to the realm of experiences. The latter were authentic. If ever I had been a religious person, it was then and there. Entering Turkowice was for me the equivalent of entering the reality of faith and Christian concepts. This world had been unknown to me before. After my escape from the ghetto, I learned a few prayers, “Holy Father,” “Hail Mary,” “In God I Believe,” so that in case of a challenge, I might be able to recite them as proof that I was a true Catholic. I knew that I was learning these texts, which did not interest me, only for this purpose. Of course, at the Felicians and in Czersk, I participated in these prayers, but this had not had much influence on me.
In Turkowice, my world changed. I suddenly acquired a religious fervor. To be sure, I did not know the prayers and the songs, but I prayed fervently and sincerely. I truly believed. I enjoyed spending time in the chapel whenever it was possible. (It was generally closed during the day, and, at certain hours, only the Sisters could enter.) I absorbed the religious instruction which we received, and, most of all, what the priest had to say. Young Stanisław Bajko, a Jesuit, enjoyed great respect in Turkowice, and the Sisters surrounded him almost with a cult.
There were diverse motives to my faith in those days. First of all, it gave me a sense of at least a modest security in a twofold sense. In the purely earthly dimension, I felt intuitively that in adapting myself to the others or even surpassing their fervor, I would become more secure. I knew from the beginning of my stay on the Aryan side that I could not differ in any way, that, on the contrary, it was my duty to blend in. Being religious was thus a matter of mimicry. It also can’t be excluded that through devotion I wanted to earn the favor of the Sisters, although I was not aware of it or maybe even could not be.
I found no common language with my age-mates who didn’t like me, and I did not become friends with anyone. I was very lonely. I regarded the Sisters as my protectors. I knew that they would protect me from the others. But faith undoubtedly gave me the feeling of security also in a different sense. I believed that God, the Great Protector, would not abandon me and would favor me.
The religious sphere was for me a new and unknown world. More so, because it was combined with ritual which must have impressed me greatly. In the modest conditions of Turkowice, it was not a particularly imposing ritual; its material trappings were, no doubt, limited to the bare minimum. However, against the background of our daily misery, it had a special emphasis, adding an element of color and poetry.
My passion for listening to music had not yet appeared then. After all, it did not yet have the opportunity to manifest itself, but I enjoyed it when one of the Sisters played on the harmonium and the choir sang. The chapel, the only place in the institution that was always clean and orderly, was, in a certain sense, also a theatrical place. The rites of Holy Week and Easter made a particularly big impression on me. During Lent, every Friday, we participated in Lamentations. My moods and experiences of that time were more in keeping with reflections about suffering than the joy of resurrection.
The harmonium is an organlike keyboard instrument with small metal reeds and a pair of bellows operated by the player’s feet.
Lamentations – liturgical services during Lent which contain psalms conveying the suffering of Jesus.
Of course, all those brought up in Turkowice were religious. It could not have been otherwise. The entire educational system was aimed towards that. There were, however, various degrees of piety, from fervent devotion to moderation. To skip participation in Sunday Mass was something virtually unimaginable, and during the time of my stay, it happened only once. On a scorching hot Sunday in June, two boys did not go to Mass; they ran away into the forest on the other side of the River Huczwa.
After this occurrence, the institution trembled to its very foundations. The Sisters persuaded and threatened, among other things, that those who did not go to the Sunday service would become Communists. This argument, however, did not mean much to my colleagues, because they did not know this word. They associated it with holy communion.
I went to Mass not only on Sundays but almost every day. My piety was passionate and irreproachable except for one impediment. I was not baptized. I must have known about this fact, but I did not think about it and did not want to think about it, for various reasons. An admission would have meant revealing myself and, in consequence, would have exposed me to the greatest danger. I did not dwell on it, but I behaved in this manner, as if practicing the rites themselves would bring me into the religious community. The Sisters knew about it as well. Still, they allowed something that they may have regarded as a sacrilege––my full participation in religious life. I was entitled not only to prayer. I participated actively in everything. I went to confession, and I took communion. Thus, I had the rights of a real Catholic, although the fundamental act was missing.
There was only one thing that was denied me. I could not be an altar boy. Serving at Mass represented the highest distinction; each religious boy dreamt of it. I dreamt of it, also. Being an altar boy was almost a direct contact with God. I suffered because it was not available to me. An altar boy’s surplice was, for me, a symbol of the ultimate acceptance in a world which only so recently was unknown to me. I was baptized in the spring of 1945 after the arrival of my mother. She gave her consent, believing that it was an elementary gesture of gratitude to the Sisters who had saved my life.
The day after my baptism ceremony, which took place in secret so that none of my colleagues would notice, I went to Mass as usual. As fate willed it, just that morning, the priest who celebrated it was in new vestments, different than before. A thought came into my head and persisted with great obstinacy, “Since I have been baptized, I see the world differently than before, especially that which takes place in the chapel. The vestments are the same as always, only I, having been admitted to the community of God, perceive them in a new way, and only now can see them in their true form.”
I was convinced that this was something of a miracle. And miracles were not strange to us. The Sisters talked about them constantly. God was not only the Supreme Being, distant in the heavens, but participated directly in the fate of the world. He intervened in our lives.
In the room of the third group, there hung a likeness of Christ with his heart open, to which his hand pointed. And when our group misbehaved, or when one or another of the boys committed some particular unpardonable offense, Sister Róża would command us to look at the picture and inquire, “Don’t you see how the hand of the Lord Jesus is swelling?” She did not assert directly that this is what was really happening but suggested such a thought. And the boys held discussions about it, some noting a swelling. And then we would be overcome by fear. Lord Jesus observes our vile deeds and, in this way, warns us and expresses his disapproval.
I have expounded here at great length about religious matters, because they constituted the main tone of my life in Turkowice. However, of course, they were not the only tone. My entry into the world of Catholicism, so sudden and intense, fundamentally changed me. My faith became a support. Other than that, I was apathetic and muddleheaded. From fear and group life, my intelligence had grown dull, although as a small child, I was supposedly well developed.
In certain respects, I was superior to the majority of my colleagues. I had a richer vocabulary. I was then interested in geography. I used the term “archipelago,” unknown to the boys. One of them said, “He is talking Yiddish.” I started avoiding foreign words, so that I forgot them. I read nothing at the time. I couldn’t. Books did not interest me. In Turkowice, there were few books. Nonetheless, there were some. A modest library was located in the priest’s room, and one could use it. It consisted mainly of religious publications. However, it also had The Trilogy.
The Trilogy – Polish historical novels by Henryk Sienkiewicz entitled With Fire and Sword, Deluge, and Pan Wołodyjowski.
How did I pass the time? Other than in religious practices and quite casual unsystematic instruction, doing nothing, really. I was so apathetic and fearful that I did not display any interests. I sat in our room on a hard bench totally without thinking. I was in a state of vegetation. Other boys, especially in the summertime, ran around the area, made expeditions to the nearby forest in order to search for food, and when it was warm, went swimming in the Huczwa River, whereas I was scared to stray from the “institution.” (Our orphanage was generally called that; the boys described it also sometimes by the word “monastery.”) I was afraid that something would happen to me, that someone would beat me up or even kill me, or that I would get lost and perish.
As I already mentioned, I did not make friends with anyone. I was totally alone. I would have most gladly shut myself up in a mousehole which was, of course, impossible, even for a moment, when one is in such a large group. Images of at least some of the boys are fixed in my memory. I will mention here only the three Zieliński brothers, such smart alecks, originally from Warsaw. It was they, particularly the oldest one, who frightened me the most in Turkowice. They told me that they knew that I was a Jew and would denounce me to the Germans. I did not know what to do with myself. I even thought about running away, but I was aware that this would amount to my unavoidable demise.
I reported them to Sister Róża, and she calmed me down, told me that I should not worry about it. As to the Zielińskis, it seems that she called them in and gave them a severe reprimand. Their threats were already becoming meaningless inasmuch as it was July 1944 and, therefore, the last days of the German occupation of these territories. A few days later, already, one could hear the first sounds of the front line.
A few words about that which is also difficult to relate––about the poverty in which we lived. In Turkowice, hunger ruled. We were hungry all the time; there was nothing to eat. We simply forgot about the existence of meat, milk, and fruit (other than fruit of the forest collected by the boys on their own; in the fall, hazelnuts were particularly plentiful). Our main meal consisted of a bowl of soup, cooked in a big kettle, often perhaps without even a minimal portion of fat.
Before the soup was distributed to the rooms, cockroaches were fished out of it. The kitchen was incredibly infested with cockroaches; hundreds of them swarmed on the walls. Everybody was so accustomed to them that they were totally disregarded and did not evoke disgust. The feeling of repugnance would only reveal itself when a mouse was found in the soup. In the end, we became accustomed even to this and would take even such unforeseen additions in stride. There wasn’t any means of disinfecting which would have permitted us to get rid of these hideous insects. In the sleeping quarters, we were pestered by fleas. I remember that one evening, dozens of them were to be found on my legs.
Bread (as a rule, dry) was the object of our utmost desire and craving. The boys used to call it dyca. (I don’t know where this word came from.) Baked in Turkowice and strictly rationed, there was always too little of it. Often boys would steal it from each other. Sometimes, they would also trade their meager rations. It was barter trading; we had nothing to do with money in Turkowice. Besides, money would have been useless, as there were no stores in the area or anyone from whom one could buy anything. Bread was traded for horseshoe spikes that were used in games. Meals were served three times a day, each time preceded by a prayer. The Sisters ate separately in the refectory, but, I believe, the same food as we or little better. The priest ate in his room. Meals were taken to him on a tray.
I don’t know how the Sisters managed to obtain what was served to us. In any case, even such meager provisions required inordinate efforts, perhaps even heroism. It would seem that social care organizations helped us up until a certain moment. Even that came to an end, particularly as Turkowice’s contact with the outside world became more difficult and, at certain periods, perhaps stopped altogether. There was no transportation, and all movement in the area, in which armed Ukrainian groups were active, exposed one to extreme danger.
…“extreme danger” – Turkowice borders the area which later became the Ukraine. A number of armed Ukrainian bands, whose aim was to create an independent Ukraine, were operating there. Anti-Soviet, anti-Polish, and extremely anti-Semitic, they set fire to Polish villages and murdered their inhabitants.
At one time agricultural farming existed at the institution, but during the war it declined. There remained only modest remnants of it, like some miserable nag and perhaps one cow. Beehives survived with a large number of bees. Sister Róża occupied herself with keeping bees. We were not given honey, however, as it was the main commodity to barter, traded for flour and potatoes.
During my time, particularly in the months before the Germans left, barter was becoming more and more difficult, as there was almost no one in the area. Villages were burned, while those who escaped with their lives left for more peaceful parts. Also, only a residue of cultivation remained. The person attending to it was Miss Wiktoria, probably a local peasant who had settled in the institution. Primarily, beans were cultivated, undoubtedly because of their nourishing properties. I don’t remember that we were put to work in the fields. The condition of everything was probably such that there was nothing to work at.
The sanitary conditions were disastrous. During my entire stay in Turkowice, not once did I brush my teeth. In general, we washed only superficially and rarely. Only once did they arrange a bath for us. We entered the tub two at a time. One tub full of water had to suffice for a dozen or so persons. It by no means follows from this that the Sisters did not value sanitation. There were no conditions to maintain it properly. After all, there was a lack of anything that would have permitted the maintenance of cleanliness, above all, soap.
In fact, both hunger and filth produced the result that not one among us was healthy. In Turkowice, there was no physician, and there was no physician in the surrounding areas. The closest one was in Hrubieszów. Although this town was only twenty kilometers away from Turkowice, it became unreachable. There was no means of transportation.
There existed a so-called isolation ward supervised by Sister Leontyna who had, it seems, qualifications as a nurse. It was in a small house where, primarily, those who had infectious diseases were placed. No systematic tests were conducted, because there was no one to do them. There were not even the most essential medications (such as aspirin). Many medications against infection were used sparingly in order to apply them in the most demanding cases. Many diseases were, no doubt, undiagnosed.
Various ailments bothered me, also. I am not even talking about colds, because they were universal. First, I had a problem with my foot. As soon as it became warmer in Turkowice, we went barefoot. There was a shortage of shoes, and even those which we wore, in many cases, would be difficult to call shoes. There were no socks at all. We used cloth, that is, old rags wrapped around our feet, or we also put shoes on over bare feet.
I was not used to walking barefoot. On my right heel, the skin thickened such that it began to separate from my foot. Some insects settled into the gap between the hardened callous and the actual heel. I walked around with this horrible mess for several days, because I was afraid (or perhaps embarrassed) to admit to it. In the end, I was seized with fear, and I showed this nest of vermin to Sister Róża. In the infirmary, they peeled off the hardened skin and disinfected the heel, and soon I forgot about it. It was a minor episode.
For a long time, until I left, I was bothered by another problem, boils. They were deep oozing sores spread through various sections of my body, very painful. It must have been dangerous, because I was sent to the infirmary. I don’t remember how I was treated.
I would now like to write a few words about that which is usually placed in the beginning, namely the site of these events. Turkowice lies near Hrubieszów on the River Huczwa, on its left bank, but not in the immediate vicinity of the river. The closest town is Tyszowce, well known in Polish history (the Tyszowce Confederation, during the Swedish wars) but then totally in decline, almost deserted. Jews, who before the war were likely in the majority, had been murdered by the Germans. Poles were also not spared in this area in which the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA) operated so cruelly and ruthlessly.
The Tyszowce Confederation – in 1655, Polish nobility and military, in opposition to their Swedish occupiers, formed a confederation to support the King of Poland, Jan Kazimierz.
I can’t say anything about the neighboring villages. I only know that they were destroyed and deserted. I am not sure of it, but I think that the Ukrainians employed the scorched earth tactic. In the neighboring forests, there were numerous partisans, but I don’t know what kind. No doubt, there were groups of many kinds. Our institution stood, therefore, in the midst of empty space, cut off from the world. Shortly after my arrival, the narrow-gauge railway ceased operating.
The area belonging to our institution was not very large. Most of the boys went outside of it, either to the Huczwa, or to one of the forests, or simply to Tyszowce, which seemed very distant, though no more than five kilometers from Turkowice. As for me, I did not poke my nose out beyond the immediate vicinity; only sometimes, very seldom, did I walk to the Huczwa. I regarded our institution as a relatively safe place and, therefore, avoided going beyond it. The Sisters had forbidden venturing into further areas, as this involved dangers. The units of UPA had no scruples about killing children.
I have written, up until this time, mainly about everyday life in Turkowice. Now, I would like to devote a little space to events which were outside the normal routine and were, as a rule, quite dramatic. First of all, I would like to mention that during my stay the Germans did not appear in Turkowice, although their intrusions had happened before, as I knew from the accounts of the Sisters and my colleagues. Our institution lay out of the way, the approach to it was difficult, and the local region was then already dangerous for the occupiers. Besides, the front line was approaching.
At that time, the greatest threat of danger came from the Ukrainians. And it is with them that the most tragic event of the war period in Turkowice is connected, the murder of Sister Longina and a group of several young teenage boys who accompanied her. Bishop Edmund Ilcewicz wrote about this crime in Tygodnik Powszechny (no. 30, 1976). A few inaccuracies intruded into his article. I will, therefore, give an account of this horrible event as it is fixed in my memory.
Tygodnik Powszechny is a popular Catholic weekly newspaper in Kraków.
Sister Longina was on her way to Hrubieszów in order to run some errands for our institution and to do some shopping. It was decided that she would travel with a group of boys, needed to push a handcart along the narrow-gauge track (a kind of trolley). Many wanted to go. The Sisters picked just eight, relatively healthy, the best, most polite, and most responsible.
Of the six whose names were mentioned by Bishop Ilcewicz, I remember one. His name was Janusz Sadowski. The boys called him the redheaded Jasio. Indeed, he had unbelievably red hair; it cried out with its bright redness. He must have been likable and have had an ease in establishing relationships, because he was well liked and played a significant role in collegial life. This is particularly worth stressing, because everybody knew that he was a Jew.
He appeared in Turkowice a few months before me. No one, however, had brought him. He arrived by himself, having left behind him a series of nightmarish experiences. He was originally from Lwów, where he had lost his entire family. Only he alone managed to escape slaughter, in what manner, I do not know. He wandered around for a certain time in small villages, and eventually, undoubtedly on someone’s advice, was directed to Turkowice. He did not conceal anything; he said that he was Jewish. And the Sisters, without hesitation, accepted him. However, he did not escape his fate.
Sister Longina set out early in the morning. Everyone realized well the danger to which she would be exposed. Prayers were said for her safe return. She did not come back at the anticipated time. I don’t know how many days later, news reached Turkowice about what took place in one of the villages between Turkowice and Hrubieszów. For a certain time, they deluded themselves that it was not really true, that it was impossible, but it was a fact and shook us all.
We were accustomed to the horrors of war. Even the young children knew a lot about them, and some of them had been touched by them personally. This horror, however, had a special impact on our imagination. The victims who fell were persons well known to us who had been with us just a few days before. Not much is known about this crime. Few remember it, as if it had drowned in a mass of horrors in an era of genocide. It touched the unarmed, a nun and boys not of age, of whom the eldest was no more than fifteen years old.
The next dramatic event, fortunately not so horrible as the previous one, was also connected with the Ukrainian threat – preparations for the evacuation of our institution. I cannot place them in time. It seems to me, however, that they took place between the middle of May when Sister Longina was murdered and the entry of the Red Army, that is, the middle of July. For the longer-term boarders of our institution, this was no big news. I don’t know whether an evacuation into the woods had, indeed, ever taken place. I know, however, that on many occasions such an escape was contemplated.
Our institution was permanently under threat, mainly from the Ukrainian side. The Sisters told us that we must all leave Turkowice and that we would all proceed to the woods. I am not aware of any details, and I don’t know if specific reasons were given, most likely not. In all likelihood, one of the Ukrainian bands wanted to slaughter us all and set fire to the buildings of the institution.
It is hard to imagine that such a large group of children (how many were we, perhaps 250?) could camp out in the forest for any length of time. The Sisters were in touch with the partisans from the Home Army, of whom there were many in the vicinity. Perhaps one of the units was supposed to take us under its wings. From time to time, men would come from the forest to our institution. Sister Superior would confer with them. Who these men were and what they talked about with our leader, of course, I did not know (and do not know to this day).
Until now, I have not written about Sister Superior. (The name she took as a nun was Stanisława, but we referred to her just as Sister Superior.) She enjoyed a great deal of respect both among the Sisters and the children. Thanks to her efforts, everything in Turkowice somehow functioned. We did not have contact with her on a daily basis. She spoke out only on the most important matters, but it is unquestionable that it was she who set the tone. It was also she who led the preparations for the evacuation.
I remember that we were to leave at two o’clock. The day was cold and cloudy. We were supposed to take with us all of our possessions–– bed linen, kitchen articles, and supplies for the next few days. There were, of course, no backpacks. Bundles were made from bedsheets and whatever else was possible. Literally at the last minute, when we were ready to march off, the alarm was canceled. I have no idea in what way the situation changed or in what manner or from whom the Sisters found out about it. Sister Superior issued the order that we were staying, and neither that day nor the next day did anything terrible happen.
This story gives clear evidence of the unceasing threat under which we lived. The Sisters often talked about the fact that going into the forest might become a necessity. At the time, during preparations for the evacuation, we undoubtedly did not fully appreciate the danger of the situation. Some boys were even pleased and prepared to experience a big adventure that would provide some variety to the sad daily routine of Turkowice.
The next big event was the entry of the Red Army. We did not greet the Russians as our saviors. This fact was connected with fear. The Sisters knew very well how the Bolsheviks had treated ecclesiastics during the Revolution and afterward. They were, therefore, fearful that they might indulge in similar excesses in Poland. It would seem that they were preparing for the worst. (Just in case, they had gotten civilian clothes ready.) They also did not know what fate would befall our institution. Fortunately, nothing bad happened. Russian units, not in great numbers after all, stayed in Turkowice briefly and behaved toward us in a friendly manner. It has remained in my memory how the soldiers, terribly exhausted, wandered about Turkowice for several days. They rolled cigarettes for themselves out of a tobaccolike weed and newspaper and showed off their rifles to the boys.
The front line bypassed Turkowice. When it approached, explosions and sounds of artillery fire reached us from a distance. We spent several days in the cellars, and we were not allowed to go out into the yard. Then, everything returned to its normal course.
In our daily life not much changed, or rather nothing changed. But at the same time, a fundamental change took place. I stopped being sentenced to death simply because I was of Jewish origin. I was then totally benumbed and, therefore, I don’t know whether I realized it immediately, but subconsciously, at least, the thought must have occurred to me.
Our region continued to be in turmoil. The UPA was active and still a great threat to us. The front line moved on, but the war here had not ended, although it was, by then, only a small war. Turkowice still remained cut off from the world.
Above all, there were no changes in our poverty. We lived as before. We still did not have anything, and nothing changed in the vicinity. We lived as if time had stood still. However, it seems to me that the Sisters were uncertain of the future. We prayed that all would turn out well. I remember prayers for the outcome of the conference in which the fate of Poland was being considered.
I would like to mention one particularly moving response to the news reaching us from the outside world. The news of the Warsaw Uprising, of the defeat and the suffering of the city, made its way to the Huczwa River. It particularly affected the boys who came from Warsaw. Some climbed trees and strained their eyes, believing that they would see the glow above the burning capital. For their age and these conditions, they showed an amazing sense of the historical catastrophe. Visions of the ruined city, overcome by death, were conjured up by each of them. These were truly apocalyptic visions, but also personal, because they had some recollections of their own from the city that ceased to exist.
As for me, the news of the uprising made little impression on me, although I remembered Warsaw and must have known that members of my closest family were living there. But I was so apathetic and addlebrained that nothing penetrated my mind, and I had forgotten the past. Only Turkowice mattered, what was happening here and now. I lived the moment. I thought of nothing about the past nor about the future. I was vegetating. I did not even think of my parents, although I had been so attached to them.
I remained a long time in this state of mind, even in February 1945, when my mother arrived to take me away from Turkowice. Mother had been hiding near Warsaw, working as a servant in the home of a certain Mrs. B. She arrived at noon on a freezing February day. She had traveled about two weeks in terrible conditions, in a roundabout way, by various means, and covering numerous stretches of the road on foot.
The Sisters received my mother in a small room on the first floor (that was most likely the private office of Sister Superior). They gave her something warm to drink, and they left us one on one. I was so stupefied and startled that, at the beginning, I did not know how to act or what to say. It seems that I did not even know how to be glad. I remember that my attention was attracted to a louse crawling around Mama’s beret. Lice did not present a surprise for me. I had become accustomed to all kinds of insects. The pathos of a meeting after two years of not seeing each other, after a horrible war from which we had come out alive—and a louse acquired somewhere during the trip.
My mother had a conversation with Father Bajko during which she expressed agreement to my being baptized. After a conference with the Sisters, it was decided that she would not be able to take me with her because of the terrible cold and because I was sick. I left Turkowice toward the end of July 1945.
1. These recollections relate only to the last period of my story during the occupation as it is most fully imprinted in my memory. (If any readers are interested in the dramatic fortunes of Turkowice, I refer them to an excellent article by Cezary Gawryś, “Turkowice––Death and Salvation” [“Turkowice – śmierć i ocalenie”], published in Więź [April 1987].) It is true that I also remember a lot from the Warsaw Ghetto and the initial period of hiding on the Aryan side, but I would not know how to tell about it.
2. I have attempted to write these memoirs coolly, factually, at a distance, avoiding big words. Therefore, perhaps the main theme which I particularly care about being stressed may not appear as clearly as it should – my gratitude to the nuns of Turkowice (Servants of the Most Holy Virgin Mary of Stara Wieś) who had to function in such difficult and dangerous conditions. I cannot find suitable words to describe their sacrifice, courage, dedication, and altruism, their quiet heroism, and the work for which their only compensation was the awareness of doing good and fulfilling a duty demanded by a deeply held faith.
Servants of the Most Holy Virgin Mary of Stara Wieś – headquarters of the religious order were in the town of Stara Wieś.
Warsaw, January 1993