When the Prussians Came to Poland - L. DeGozdawa


When the cook came at five o'clock to sit with the children while I rested, she found me for the first time in all those days not dressed in my uniform, but wearing a thin kimono, and saying how warm it was. She was frightened. It was so difficult for me to speak. My tongue would not obey me, but I made her understand that Wladek was better—saved—and that for Stas the crisis would likely come that night. The poor creature began to cry, saying, "Oh, my lady, you also are ill with the fever!"

That I could not agree to. There was no time for me to be ill. We spoke of the need of fuel. A Jew had some wood and wanted fifty roubles for it. Another had a few potatoes. These things were sorely needed. But no milk! For Wladek it was so absolutely necessary. There was still a Ten-pound package of sugar. Wladek was conscious, too weak to speak, pitiful beyond measure. I tried to force myself to have energy enough to dress his hand,—succeeding after a terrible effort. Stas was calling out, talking wildly as usual. For my little daughter the problem of food faced me. What to give her! She was always difficult to please with food—and now would hardly touch our fare.

The day wore away. Late in the afternoon the doctor came. I had quite forgotten about Manya.

"You have also the typhus!"

In a voice that seemed to belong to someone else, I told him, "No—I have no time for the typhus, the children would die if I gave up," and refused to go to bed.

That night the fever laid its hand heavily upon me, and I went to bed. My cook told me afterwards how I sang what she called "church music" till she thought the end was near—that already the angels were there!

Seemingly a hundred years after, in reality a few hours, it was borne in upon my consciousness by a pure mother instinct undoubtedly, that someone was crying. I opened my eyes to see the cook bending over Stas, crying, "if my lady would only wake up, and tell me what to do!"

I forced my voice back from the far-away country, telling her to put Stas beside me, compresses also, that I could attend him, and, with God's help, I did; after a while getting to my feet, keeping always a tight hold of my senses, lest they wander. The very overpowering anxiety for my children cast the fever off!

Stas lived through the crisis that night, just as Wladek had done. I sat in the big chair between the little cribs, telling the cook what to do.

For two days it was difficult to drag about. It was as if I had never rested or sat down in my life.

The second day when the doctor came, there suddenly flashed across my mind the story of Manya, and I asked him where she was. He told me it was "not my affair." Wladek's second finger had to have an operation, but knowing the tender methods of the doctor, I bathed it in ether myself.

Wladek was hungry,—like a wolf. I gave him the juice of my strawberry preserves. The hunger of the boys grew so alarmingly, and I had only the tea, toast, and preserves, not a diet for typhus patients. The Jew had sold his potatoes to someone else.

Four days after Manya's disappearance, news was brought to me that she was in the house of an old Jewess, a cigarette maker. Leaving the cook with the children, and hardly able to drag myself along, I went with Jacob to find his daughter. How strange it was in the streets, the soldiers were everywhere, staring curiously at us. Impossibly dirty, it bore no resemblance to the town I had known; bits of furniture were standing about, all sorts of things spilled over the streets.

After many difficulties, we finally found the place, and paying no attention to the soldiers about, pushed our way into the room where Manya was. . . . what had been Manya. When she, poor creature, saw us, she threw herself on the floor, sobbing; springing up when I knelt beside her. An officer came in to ask our business with the girl.

"She is my maid—stolen! This is her father. I have come to take her home."

"I am very sorry, but you are not allowed to take her, she belongs to the soldiers."

"Don't you see Herr Offizier, the girl is dying?"

"Ill she is, and shall have the best of care. We have a doctor to attend just such cases, "and I had to leave her. Jacob's face was without expression, he seemed to have lost the power to think or feel,—his little girl—

Not long after that, when things were at their very worst in the matter of food, an officer walked into the room where I was busy with the children, a doctor of the sanitary service, of Polish blood! Oh! how glad I was to see him, and how kind he was examining into all the details, not only of the children's health, but how we lived, I also told him of the brutal doctor. That afternoon this good doctor, Sanitats Rat, sent me a loaf of bread and four eggs! Nothing I have ever seen, no jewels, were ever so precious in my eyes as that white bread and eggs, for in the town the food had all been taken, and there was none to buy!

About this time, the terrible contribution was laid on Suwalki in answer to Memel, which the Russians had taken. Two hundred thousand marks to be raised by those poor people! The guns were in front of the church. The town was to be blown into the air unless this great sum was paid by a certain day. I saw how they took the Russian priest and the Jewish rabbi (one of the Roman Catholic priests had long since been taken) to keep as hostages, yanking them along the street by a rope. The soldiers were amusing themselves.

In and out of the houses those levying officers went, taking the very blood, one might say, from the people. I was told after my hunt for Manya, to keep at home. Jacob bad disappeared,—carried off to dig in the trenches. Those were fearsome times! After paying my large share of the contribution, also giving up my jewels, it seemed as if when food would be there to purchase, at the existing prices, I should soon be without money. The good doctor had tried to get help for me. There were a number of the Russian Red Cross Sisters captured with the army and held in Suwalki, but they were not allowed to come; though for six weeks I had been nursing my boys, and struggling with the fever myself.

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


I complained about Manya, and was promised that the case should be taken up, "made an example of ." So it was! The old Jewess, though quite innocent in the matter, was arrested, kept five days on bread and water (what the rest of the town lived on, too!) and made to pay a fine of three hundred marks! How the case was made out was difficult to imagine. When I told them the old Jewess had done nothing, that she was simply turned out of her own home, I was told that the doctor could not be even questioned, he belonged to the military, but that a Jew could always be punished.