When the Prussians Came to Poland - L. DeGozdawa

Off to Galicia

How tiresome it was in Vitebsk! We had only the ebb-tide of war; no excitement, unless the impossible newspaper extras could be regarded in this light. My Russian was most elementary, so it was out of the question to work in the hospitals; besides, there were sisters enough. We lived near a barracks, to my children's delight. Every time they went for a walk they brought back a soldier or two(!) who were delighted to have so much notice taken of them, and who played beautifully with the children.

There is a wonderful childlike quality in those men. The samovar was always ordered for them, lots of bread and butter and of course cigarettes. Naturally the popularity of the children grew by leaps and bounds. When I decided to go to Lemberg the first week in December, having had no word from my husband for five days, the children promised to be very good and content during my absence if they might have the soldiers to play with, and money to buy them little presents. A friend advised waiting and going into Galicia with a Red Cross train, but I was too impatient for that. At the station an officer told me in spite of my Red Cross uniform I could not get into Galicia without a permit, because there were so many spies about. But I decided to take my chances.

The journey to Kiev was uneventful, until we reached the long bridge just beyond the city. There we were held from nine o'clock in the evening until half-past one in the morning—why, nobody knew. The night was like day because of the searchlight. Finally, when a fast train thundered by we were released. Afterwards, I learned that a high personage was on his way from Lemberg and his train had to have a clear way.

Kiev is a lovely old-world city; so quaint, yet a busy, progressive place. After spending the rest of the night and the day there, I took the nine o'clock evening train for Brody. A very interesting lot of people were my travelling companions; especially I remember a Russian lady. We had a long stretch together for the train did not come in until eleven o'clock. In all that time I did not see one unusual thing; it might have been peace times.

[Illustration] from Prussians Came to Poland by L. DeGozdawa


At Brody, we had to change cars—then the gendarmes came for the special passports—I had only my Red Cross certificate. It seemed so strictly against orders that everyone said I might as well make up my mind to wait for the next train. The gendarmes said that this was the only possible course; but I told them I could not, that it would bring me into Lemberg at night, that I did not know if my husband were in the city, and I demanded to see the Captain of the gendarmes. The Captain was very nice, but at first firm in his decision, even offering me his office to sit in until permission came from the Governor-General. I simply said, "Captain, I must go through now. You can't expect me to stop in Brody all night—such an awful hole—or to arrive in Lemberg at night!"

"Why did the lady not tell her husband? Will he wish to have the lady there?"

"Oh, if that is the difficulty you are safe—my husband wishes me to come, I am sure."

"It is impossible. There are many spies about. I would get into trouble."

"Please, Captain, I am an American, and I must go with that train. Send a telegram to my husband, but let me go!"

After looking through my documents and Red Cross papers once more, he decided to let me go with the promise my husband would himself tell the Governor-General how I got in. As he put me on the train, he said it was well for him all the ladies were not from America, since they did as they pleased.

We arrived in Lemberg at two o'clock. There were so few vehicles I had to wait a long time on the station—crowded, though it is an enormous place. There was the untidiness about it which goes with war, with soldiers lying about on the floor, etc.

After a long wait I got a doroszka, with a coachman who told me a lot about the occupation of Lemberg. How the Austrians went without a word—and the Russians just walked in—and were very free with their money.

Arriving at the address given me by my husband I found it was the magistrate (the city buildings) with two soldiers on guard, and a number of automobiles before the door.

When the soldier finally understood what it was I said, he dashed off, burst into my husband's room announcing,

"There is a Sister down below who says she is somebody's wife!"

My husband laughed and said, "She must be mine! That sounds like my wife's Russian!"

To say he was astonished is putting it mildly. My letters and telegrams began to come after I had been there a day or two. The Governor-General was also amused at my success in getting in, and gave me a permission to visit Galicia whenever I wished. Unfortunately this was of no avail.

Lemberg was in a curious state. There was a great deal of poverty, because all salaries had been stopped, the banks had gone, etc. The rich people were worse off than the poor. Nevertheless the theatres were open, and were well patronized. The town was not sad. The shop people sold everything they had, but could not get more merchandise. A very good soup kitchen had been opened so the townspeople need not starve. Fuel was the greatest difficulty. Many peasants earned money by bringing wood from the surrounding forests.

Everything went on as usual, even to the number of Austrian uniforms seen upon the streets. The Russians gave their prisoners a great deal of freedom, the men living often in their own homes, or with friends. They were not objects of suspicion.

Looking back it seems like a dream—those happy days we had together in Lemberg, even Teodor, my husband's orderly acquires a halo. He was such a character. From the first moment, he almost roasted me with the tremendous fire he insisted on always making—we thought the stove would crack. It was his way of doing me honor. Teodor was wounded in the forefinger of his right hand, and was mightily afraid I would ask to see it. Comfortable he was, and not anxious to go back to the trenches. The engineers said that all their comforts were taken and brought to us. He was so proud of having a Sister in his care. Each day there would be something new which he had discovered—once a bunch of old English newspapers from before the war—again a powder box—to say nothing of an elaborate way to serve tea. Of himself he said he was "Gold, not Teodor," so honest he felt himself to be.

We called on many of our acquaintances. My husband's old professor was in the university there, and very glad to have a friend at court.

I talked with many people of the city. Most of them had relations in the Kingdom of Poland, and were glad they could go to Warsaw. Some said that, if the Russians evacuated, they would surely go along for fear of what would happen to them should their own army return, those poor people not knowing which direction to turn, but all believing in the ultimate triumph and freedom of Poland. A judge came to ask us if we could not get a pair of shoes for himself and wife. He had on galoshes, while she had to stay at home. They had been on a visit and had been caught in Lemberg. Of course my husband gave them money for their most pressing needs, and was able to get some work for the judge. So it was with many. Galicia always was poor and full of people living on state salaries—which suddenly had stopped.

One night, we went to a cabaret where they tried to be gay without wine or spirits of any kind. It was funny to hear a man order a bottle of water. The Lemberger especially did not like it,—but how decorous was that cabaret! At the "Hotel George," the place of Lemberg, it was just the same! An American with the Red Cross said it was like a Sunday School. I suppose after there has been no wine nor vodka for many years, people will learn to be gay because they are glad, not because of anything they may have to drink.

On the 16th of December, I was once more in Vitebsk, finding all very well, and a pressing request for me to sing at a Red Cross concert (for the benefit of the Warsaw sufferers, to get coal, etc., for them) in the Opera House Christmas evening. Though I had not sung since the war began, it was impossible to refuse.

The concert was a great success, even though Warsaw was hanging in the balance—the battle fiercely raging. Our tableaus or living pictures were changed at the last moment for fear we had made them too decided, but patriotic they were!

I was Britannia. Naturally a most lovely girl in national costume was Russia; poor little Belgium forgot her lines. France called for a box to stand on because she could not be seen, etc.—but the concert and pictures were a success, and something over three thousand roubles cleared.