When the Prussians Came to Poland - L. DeGozdawa


After this lazarette had been helped out for a few days, they again received supplies, and could work on; but those patients were moved and no more came—not more than a dozen or two. No one knew what was the trouble as the days went on. Rumors there were, of course. How curious those war rumors are—one hears the most absurd things—some always give them credence.

We heard once that Konigsberg was taken, that the army was pushing on to Berlin,—we all hoped so! Once, when I was at the station with the wounded, a regiment of Cossacks arrived—coming from the far corner of Russia—wild, fierce-looking men, with one object in life. I noticed that an officer who spoke to the men laughed very heartily and I asked him what had happened.

"The Cossacks wish to know if it is already Berlin, and if they may let loose!"

As the days went by a curious tension made itself felt; one started to do something, and did not finish. The hospitals were quite empty, occasionally bands of prisoners were marched through, forage wagons went continually. One day a lot of prize pigs from Kaiser Wilhelm's estate near the border were driven into our town—some of the soldiers occasionally brought back loot in the wagons they drove. That was forbidden, however, and the Chief of Police, who had turned into a real friend of the townspeople, took away and locked up all such stolen goods.

Aeroplanes with bombs and literature dropping from them were daily events—what promises made to army and people—promises of autonomy almost identical with those made by Russia to the Poles, which the people had taken in good faith.

When an aeroplane came everyone ran for shelter, but there was not the excitement of the first instance—we had grown used to them!

On the 8th of September, we noticed laden forage wagons leaving Suwalki, and another line of laden wagons returning to Suwalki. Also, the Red Cross was ordered to pack up; but there was absolutely no news from the front.

On the 9th, my husband went to Warsaw, most unwillingly, for the meeting of the Polish Red Cross Central Committee. We felt the moment to be a dangerous one to leave me alone with the children, but it was absolutely necessary for him to go for two days. Having been born in America we felt that if need be, I could take care of myself and the children.

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


All that 10th day of September there was unrest. Aeroplanes, forage-wagons going and returning! I went into the cellars and attics to conceal stores, etc. In the attic I was frightened by the echoes—like thousands of feet tramping—tramping—until the maids began to cross themselves and say the place was haunted. Perhaps it was!

That night, beside my babies' bedsides I prayed as I had never prayed before; dear little ones—they were only interested in all the happenings! About nine o'clock, the streets were filled with a mob of people fleeing from the outlying villages—men, women, children, dogs, cows, pigs, horses, and carts all mixed up in one grand mélange—and we heard the snap, snap of rifle shots. A Russian officer whom I knew came to ask that all our lights be extinguished—even that in the night nursery. He said no one knew what it was—whether the Germans had broken through or if the Cossacks were hunting down an officer, who was reported as basely betraying his men—a German of course—as many of the officers then were! This Russian officer had known my husband was in Warsaw, and he took us under his especial protection.

Our house, a great, big old place overlooked the road to East Prussia. The way was almost clear from the windows at the back of the house. It was such an endless sort of a place—I felt so lonesome wandering about that night—not lonesome because I was alone—oh no! everybody in the house seemed to move whenever I did, except the children—but, I did want my husband! It was so awful to hear all those noises and not go to see what they were about; such a pandemonium of sound—and no moon to help things out! When I once looked out of the window at the back of the house (the Poles called it a palace!) innumerable lights were flashing about the fields and shots and cries. Finally growing so nervous with the sounds, the uncertainty, and also hearing people about me say their prayers as if they expected to die the next moment, I lighted a candle and stole about the rooms looking at them—saying goodbye to the old order of things! I also felt it was time to take, from its hiding place in the bottom of a small upright piano in my boudoir, the money my husband had left. For some reason the darkness, the secrecy, made me feel just like a thief—and I jumped up, scattering gold pieces all over the floor, when my good cook came with a black-coffee tray. She had not forgotten me in the midst of all her fear.

The money was a problem to hide—five thousand roubles—gold, silver, and bills. By the time it was all concealed about me I felt rather unbalanced—five hundred roubles in five and ten rouble pieces, gold, and three hundred in small silver pieces is a weight! So many bills are also inconvenient, but—how much worse to have no money—and how many there were in this predicament.