1918

The winter and spring of 1918 went by and harvest approached again. When we hauled everything from the fields, it was less than a tenth of what we normally gathered in the pre-war period. My mother cried when she saw how little we had to live on for the entire year.
One September day in 1918, a battalion of German soldiers arrived and stayed in Bogdanówka for three days. Some of the soldiers stayed in our barn and slept on the wheat sheaves. Next day, a light rain began to fall. Those lazy, insolent bastards rather than going to the bathroom in the evening, because of this little rain, they just went and did it on the sheaves of rye. In the morning I went to the barn to move some sheaves, to make room for the fresh hay, and put my hand right into the smelly shit. I looked at the Germans and they just laughed at me. I went to the house to wash my hands and told my mother what they did. My mother, with whatever German she knew, went and told them that even ‘a pig does not shit where it sleeps, and you’re a cultural people’. They all began to laugh which made my mother angry and she called them ‘swines’. For this word, one of them grabbed her by the arm and pushed her to the ground. This was yet other example of these so called cultural Germans. This was the last time that any German stayed with us during the First World War.

My mother soon realized that without a horse we will not be able to plant anything for the winter. She decided to go to Tarnopol where, for quite a bit of money, she bought an older mare. In the fall of 1918, we joined forces with Mrs. Ferluczka and together used our horses to work the fields. She also bought a mere but an old and lazy one. Not only that her horse did not pull but was slowing our down. Seeing my mare coming all sweaty all the time from the field, I decided to break our arrangement with Mrs. Ferluczka. Her son, Marcin got very angry with me for breaking our arrangement. One night, this raving lunatic came to our stable and drove a four inch nail into my mare’s hoof. In the morning I found my horse standing on three legs. My mother and I were in fear of loosing the horse and at the same time wondering what so suddenly had happened. After washing the mares leg and scraping her hoof, I pulled out the nail. A stream of blood burst out of the wound. Our mare remained crippled for a long time because the old hoof came off and a new one grew after about six months. The horse slowly started working, but always favored one leg, because the hoof grew but not the way it supposed to.

Our father let us know that he was alive as soon as the Russians left, but he was far away in Italy. This is where the last stages of war took place and where Austria suffered her final defeat. After losing the Battle at Piave River, the Austrian, German and Turkish thrones collapsed and with it the dynasty of Romanov, Hapsburg and Hohenzollern ceased to exist. At the end of the war my father was transferred to Piotrków. This part of Poland was previously occupied by the Russians and now it was under the control of Germans and Austrians. I was praying to God for his safe return so that I would be freed from the heavy labour and responsibilities he left me with.

When the war ended on November 1918, men started returning home from the army often on foot, hungry and poor. They were returning from Italy, France, Bulgaria, Serbia, Albania and Russia. Based on the Wilson’s “thirteenth point,” Poland gained her independence as did Yugoslavia, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Finland and Albania. Soldiers from these countries, who served with the occupying armies, tried to get back home with arms in hand, but it was not easy.
Ukraine, although not recognized by the League of Nations, also became a nation. Germans and Austrians leaving from these lands, deliberately gave the power to the Ukrainians to undermine Poland’s independence.
It was much easier for anyone to go home from the Western Europe than from Russia where battles raged between individual factions fighting for power. To come home from Siberia through Russia and Ukraine, which were in midst of the revolution, could only be made by large and well armed groups of men. Hungarian, Czech, Yugoslavian or German soldiers were returning home in well organized and armed military units. They would not allow themselves to be disarmed and often waged fierce battles at the railway stations. In this ‘return home journey’ many people were killed although the war was practically over. For the returning soldiers, the most difficult task was to break through Małopolska (Little Poland), where the West Ukrainian People’s Republic (ZUNR) was created and where they were fighting the Poles for the city of Lwów (Lviv) since early November.

Ukrainians did not have as much resentment to other nationalities as they had towards Poland. They knew very well that the weapons brought to Poland from Russia, will be used against the Ukrainians. A whole wave of former Russian prisoners of war, suddenly freed in Hungary, the Czech Republic and Austria, were moving east. The railway stations and trains were full of hungry and ragged men to whom no one offered any help. Quite the opposite, the newly created Ukrainian police inspecting these men would often take their last shirt. Every person was fending for himself and managing however one could in this cursed circle of the wandering nations.
In the absence of coal, there was nothing to burn in the steam locomotives, so they were taking apart wooden sheds and even cutting down telephone poles just to keep going.
Soon after the collapse of thrones, Poland was formed within miserable borders. Insurgents in Silesia were fighting against the Germans and the Czech Republic. Małopolska and Volyn were on fire, fighting from the first day after the fall of the Great Powers. At that time, commander Józef Piłsudski was freed from the fortress of Magdeburg where he was held as prisoner of war by the Germans. Poland from that time begins marking its new borders with bayonets and human life after 126 years of slavery. Ukrainians in Małopolska begun creating administrations, police outposts and military garrisons. They started terrorizing the Poles and taking men, who just returned from the war fronts in Italy or from other countries, to their army. A significant number of Poles and Ukrainians did not want to join this army. They would be seized by force, beaten and then send to the front lines near Lwów. As a result of this, several groups of deserters were formed after whom Ukrainian military police and hajdamacy (organized band of bandits) would hunt as if for ducks.
It was a cold and wet autumn and many men returning from the WWI got sick during their long travel by trains and on foot. People drove not only in the railcars, but on the train roofs, stairs and buffers. In that way many lost their lives in railway tunnels and from falling off the railcar roofs.
Heavy snowfall covered the ground and a harsh winter begun very early in December. Onslaught of ice and snow reduced the battle for Lwów to local skirmishes, and it also minimized police scrutiny in the villages. There was however, lack of basic necessities for the people. Despite these shortcomings, life seemed to be returning to normal.

Jan Domański

Translated by John Janiga

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