When the Prussians Came to Poland - L. DeGozdawa

The Surrounding Country

On all sides of Suwalki had been the battlefield. There were great holes torn in the earth, trenches dug, and men buried. On one hillock we passed, where the rain had washed off the slight covering of earth, we saw boots sticking out! The man driving us said ten thousand were buried there—that I cannot vouch for—but it seemed as if it might be true. Wherever we went there were graves—big graves hastily made—even now men were working to pile earth on the insufficiently buried. When we got to the forest we did not see so many, but the road was torn by artillery wagons,—trees were broken off at the roots. We had to walk now, a fearsome thing in the haunted forest. At one spot we came upon our forester. He was working, but recognizing who it was, he threw down his tools with the greeting, "Oh! my lady, we thought you were all dead, because the dog is here."

Our little dog Dash, taken by force along with the wagon by our acquaintance, during the evacuation of Suwalki, had been lost in the forest beyond Sejny, through the fleeing people, marching armies, and battlefields she had sought us. Coming at last to our villa, the forester had taken her to his cottage, and had fed and cared for her. It was like something from the other life, when that wiggling mass of happiness saw us.

The forester told me our villa had been burned down by the Germans; that all their food had been taken, their potatoes dug up, etc.

We went farther on our way, and soon came nearer the recent battlefields, and found children wandering about, left alone—the parents driven into East Prussia; one child of four carried a baby of six months. They had eaten earth in the extremity of their hunger. How many days had they wandered?

Our quest lasted over two days, finding always poor little waifs who had no roof to cover them. Every hut was burned down; gruesome work it was. Many times we saw dead men. I wondered why we struggled so to save our lives when so many had gone down. Going through the forest at dusk, we heard a child's cry, but could not locate the sound. In our search a wounded horse plunging through the underbrush came upon us. He passed so near I could have touched him. Frightened, I clung to a tree for dear life. How glad we were to find the automobile waiting for us, and to know the children sent back had arrived. We gathered over eighty—starving, literally starving to death. In Suwalki they were put into a school building. My governess was to take charge.

That same night a sanitary train was leaving for Vitebsk with a tremendous load of wounded,—work enough. On that journey, almost three days, the little dog Dash helped pass the time for the wounded officers. I went into the operating car at eight in the morning, leaving for meals only, staying until nine at night; it was trying work. The effort of standing is in itself much, but the sight of so much suffering, the tug at the heart strings; and one never gets through! We stopped several hours at Vilno to work in the large room for that purpose at the station. Everyone was exhausted, and we could not crowd the men into the operating car. At the station, twenty at a time could be attended to. Most of the men had toothache aside from their wounds, and all coughed. It seemed a rule in that climate, at least, that all wounded suffer from the lungs in some form or other,—inflammation was the usual thing! We used to paint the aching teeth with iodine, putting absorbent cotton in them. The idea that something was being done for them helped, I imagine, more than anything actually done.

Arriving in Vitebsk without any startling adventures, I was welcomed hilariously by the children who had not expected to see Dash.

Again a time of comparative quiet. Each day was like a week. The time moved so slowly. No letters from my husband,—only when someone brought them to me. A telegram I had each day, so misspelled there was little sense in it, and small satisfaction.