When the Prussians Came to Poland - L. DeGozdawa

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 favorite 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 byways, 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 odor 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.