When the Prussians Came to Poland - L. DeGozdawa


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 Magistrate 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 paralyzed 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. Everyone 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 paralyzed 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!

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


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.

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?