When the Prussians Came to Poland - L. DeGozdawa

The First Patients

Our hospital was quickly arranged. We had accommodations at a pinch for two hundred and fifty. There was a wonderful and generous response from the people—linen, bedding, beds, food all poured in. These were curious days. Life was full of excitement. It was as if we expected something to happen, and we waited—everyone nervous, excited, keyed up! My hands were more than full. Knowing how to sew, and not knowing any other lady who did, I was forced to take charge of the work rooms until the linen closet was ready for use. There had been absolutely no preparation of any description! We had to begin from the first. Except for the constant stream of forage wagons, and occasional regiments, life began to be rather quiet,—to take on a certain routine. We constantly increased our supplies. The possibility of foodstuffs getting dear and scarce was, of course, to be taken into consideration; but no one dreamed of such a thing as the enemy getting them. Our army had pushed on so valiantly.

Time dragged in those days of preparation. One always thought and wondered what would come next. It was like walking in the dark and expecting to fall into the sea. But one night about twelve o'clock, the first loads of wounded came to Suwalki. The nights are always cold there, and sounds carry startlingly. We heard the cars stop,—motor trucks packed full of groaning, coughing humanity! They had been transported a long distance, and were on the verge of exhaustion. In such numbers were they we were forced to have food cooked in our own kitchens to help out. The next day we had over five hundred in our hospital! The base hospitals were filled, and then emptied into hospitals like ours.

In the next few days, the Russian Red Cross came also, and even they ran out of things! I know my workshop was put into use making shirts, etc., for them. It was a delight to do such work; and what a pleasure it was when the director gave me fifty roubles to pay the sewing women, who were in need. We had a fund started to aid the women. Those who could sew were already employed. The real work came at this time. One wished to comfort all those poor fellows. How sad we felt that we had not enough beds to go around. Still there was plenty of good clean straw.

In the hospitals the floors were full. One had to step carefully; I began to get acquainted with the Russian soldiers. What splendid fellows they are—such a childlike simplicity of nature, such bravery and devotion. They always seemed to understand my remarkable Russian; I had just begun to learn to speak it.

One room in the hospital we gave over to Germans who had been taken prisoners. They were treated with the greatest consideration, and had just the same fare as the others. I remember one day walking through the ward speaking to the different ones. A young boy asked me when the Russians would begin to torture him! I asked where he got such an idea, and he replied that they had been told in Germany what would happen if they ever got caught—that they had been preparing for the worst ever since taken—that they thought we were feeding them up to make them suffer more! When it was explained to them how everyone was full of the best and kindest intentions, the faces brightened and one or two who had refused to speak began to ask questions, and feel that life was not quite ended for them.

Suwalki grew very busy as the days went by—wounded coming and going—being transported after a few days' care in our hospitals first to Vilno [Vilnius], and then on to Moscow.