My School Years

In 1913 I did quite well in school and I received a small reward for good marks. It was a substantial improvement over the previous year when my teacher was a half crazy Mr. Nowak. He didn’t care much about the kids and created some unbelievable oddities and strange quirks.
I remember one such an event Mr. Nowak construed in our school.
One day just before the summer vacation in 1912, the senior class was reading about the foray of King Jan Sobieski into Vienna. Mr. Nowak decided to demonstrate how this foray actually looked like. He stayed with the girls in the classroom, supposedly as King Sobieski in Vienna, and sent all the boys outside saying,
“You are now the Turks, I am King Sobieski and the school is Vienna. You will try to conquer Vienna with all your might.”
He then locked all the doors and windows.
All the boys outside started planning on how to conquer this Vienna. Among the older class of students was Peter Szamryk, nicknamed ‘devil’ and he directed the entire assault. He told us to go to the church construction site and bring as many stones and brick fragments as we can carry. After we brought this ammunition we began bombarding the school doors and windows. The teacher soon realized that it was not a joke. He opened the window and started yelling to cease fire but quickly hid behind the wall when a rock struck him on a forehead. Girls in fear, hid under the desks because the rocks were flying and hitting the blackboard at the back of the classroom. Bricklayers seeing this unusual ruckus, came down from the scaffolding and grabbed some sticks to ward off the crazy kids away from the school. Our mayor Tomasz Marciniszyn who was also at the construction site caught one of those Turks and began pounding his behind. The boys started shouting that the teacher told us to capture Vienna. The mayor soon found out what it was all about. Then he started yelling at the teacher,
“Are you crazy? You’re making Vienna out of school and Turks out of children?”

The end result was that day we smashed all the windows and battered couple of doors and walls. On top of it all, some girls turned over and spilled a large barrel of water in the corridor. Shortly after Mr. Sykora, the chairman of the School Committee, arrived and documented everything. He then sent his report to the School Board in Zborow. In a few days the county inspector arrived and made a decision to place Mr. Nowak in an institution for the mentally ill. He was reportedly in this institution for over a year after which he was allowed to teach again, but to Bogdanówka he never returned.

Mr. Nowak was replaced with a respectable and hardworking teacher whose name was Mr. Nyszczota. He had a very attractive wife and they lived together with his mother in law in the school residence.
During their stay in Bogdanówka, they use to buy two liters of milk every day from my mother. One December day my mother gave me the milk to take to Mrs. Nyszczota but at that time we had a freezing rain and it was very slippery. As I was carrying this milk, I slipped and fell, spilling the milk just outside the school door. Mrs. Nyszczota seeing this, ran out and said,“It’s Ok, nothing bad happened”.
“But where you are going to get the milk and what will I tell my mother?” I asked.
“Go home and tell your mother that I need two more litres of milk but do not tell her what just happened.”
Fortunately, there was more milk and the whole thing was settled.
Mrs. Nyszczota was very nice and a generous lady, whenever I brought milk, she always gave me some candies.
Mr. Nyszczota as a new teacher made fantastic progress with children’s education that year. Regretfully, he was with us only for one year because at that time young teachers were rotated through several schools and his next position was in Milno near Zalozce (Załoście).

One day my father took me to the market in Zalozce and told me to watch our horses. The market was full of stalls and people, like in a beehive. This was my first time at any market and I was very curious to look at all the interesting things. Suddenly someone called me ‘Janek’. It was Mrs Nyszczota.
“What are you doing here?” She asked.
“I am watching our horses, mam.”
She then asked me about the health of my parents, how I was doing in school and whether I was still spilling milk?
“Say halo to your mother and father.” She added and on leaving, she gave me some money to buy something for myself. Sadly, I never saw her again.

At this time my father worked in the fields every day or was delivering materials for the construction of the church. My mother either worked in the fields, in the garden or in the house. My older sister Catherine was looking after the grazing cattle and I, when not in school, watched over young ducks so that the crows would not steal them and took care of my younger sister Anna and baby brother Anthony. I had to watch him the most since he would crawl anywhere and everywhere.
Having these chores I also had to look for some personal entertainment.
One fine day my friend Peter Osadcia came over and to make something mischievous, we decided to build a church. I became Mr. Stawarski and Osadcia was Mr. Lancucki (Łańcucki). We made it so, because the engineer Stawarski lived in our house, and Mr. Lancucki lived in Mrs. Natalia Osadcia house. A large pile of stones laid in our yard that my father brought from Kukutkowce for the construction of a potato cellar. Peter and I pulled out several smaller, equal size stones, mixed some liquid manure with clay and started building a church in a form of a large doghouse. We raised the walls about a meter high but we had nothing to make the roof with. In our storage room was a large barrel which my mother used for pickling cucumbers or making sauerkraut for the winter. We took this barrel and without thinking, knocked out the rim strips with an axe and made a perfect roof from the staves. When the church stood finished in the middle of the yard, my father suddenly drove in with his horses. When he saw a pile of split rocks in the middle of the yard and a completely destroyed barrel, he became furious and gave both builders such a beating that we had trouble sitting. What initially started to be such a fun, ended up on a sad note for the both of us.

1913 was a really strange year. All the school children would play only one game, army mustering and waging a war. It was indeed a very strange premonition initiated by the children to what was to come. Many older people talked about this as a phenomenon that they had never seen before to such an extent. Every boy wore a lancers’ style hat made from paper, a wooden sword at his side and a wooden rifle over his back. The boys would divide into two hostile groups and engage in fierce fighting from which no one would go to bed without a bruise or bump on his head. People seeing these war games were foretelling an imminent war. Indeed, that year not only the children were waging wars, but the elderly were spending entire evenings talking about the coming of imminent war. Various military organizations, such as Bartosz and Falcons, were being formed in the cities and villages.

I remember when one Sunday, at the invitation of our priest, Falcon organization came to Bogdanówka from Bzowica and Trościaniec. All the men were dressed in grey uniforms with yellow collars and cuffs, and wore square hats with large feathers. Many people went to the cemetery at that time carrying white-and-red flags and an oak cross with a sign, ‘Glory to the 1831-1863 insurgents’. Several of our young men, with white and red stripes across their chests, were marching and singing, ‘Z dymem pożarów’ (‘With the smoke of fires’) and ‘Bartoszu, Bartoszu hej nie traćmy nadziei’ (‘Bartosz, Bartosz lets not lose hope’).
A strong movement was forming within the cities towards regaining Poland’s freedom. Józef Piłsudski, with Austria’s approval, was forming Polish army on the Polish territories occupied by Austria. Austria allowed this having in mind its own interests before her showdown with Russia. With these extraordinary events, the urban and rural population throughout the country believed that the impending war between the two invaders was not far away. Polish as well as Rusyn priests were constantly reminding their congregations that the time of great change was on the horizon and we must be prepared for it. They would preach that no one today could guess whether it will be an armed conflict or a much wider spread war. Polish newspapers from Lwow and Tarnopol were openly writing that the time was ripe to lay the groundwork for a new Polish Republic. Ukrainian press and clergy were also calling for volunteers to join the units of “Siczowych strilciw” (The Sich fighters).

For now, it was quiet, daily work went on normally, only my mother would continually remind me to look after Anthony and the ducks so that the crows would not steal them, otherwise she will pull my ears off.
All this was brewing for a number of years and suddenly became a reality in 1914.

Bogdanówka between 1910 and 1914 went through substantial changes. A beautiful new Polish church was built and a large part of the feudal lands was parceled out to the peasants. In this way four new Polish families moved to Bogdanówka, those of Michał Olender, Wojciech Szklanny, Andrzej Gerc and Józef Półtorak, all from the Trościaniec Wielki (Great Troscianiec). They bought a total of 80 acres of arable land and meadows, and part of the orchard for their farmhouses. It was a negligible amount of the land belonging to the feudal lord since his possessions were greater than that of the entire village. It was however the beginning of the collapse of the feudal system and gradual transfer of land into the hands of hard-working peasants. As I mentioned, after Mrs. Paprocki, Mr Malczewski became the new owner of the manor. When Malczewski’s son was a general in the Austrian army, the old Malczewski sold the estate to a rich Jew from Tarnopol. People called this Jew Gisbryk but his real name was Grinsberg and he owned the property for about twenty years. In 1911 Grinsberg sold the manor to another Jew from Tarnopol whose name was Rotstein. The new owner soon after, apparently being short of money, decided to sell about 80 acres. People did not want to buy the land without a lot for a building, so the new owner was forced to sell part of the orchard which was the most beautiful part of the manor.
Rotstein was the master of the manor until after the First World War when he divided it equally between his two sons, Abraham and Srul. The old mansion and the outbuildings were completely destroyed during the war, so Rotstein’s two sons built two separate farms after the war and worked the land each his own way. Sometime around 1930, Abraham sold his farm to a local Ukrainian, Anthony Balaban. Srul followed in his brother footsteps and sold his land in several parcels. A large parcel together with all the buildings was purchased back then by Jan Olender from the Great Trościaniec and the rest by several peasants from Bogdanówka.
Mr Balaban was in Bogdanówka for only a short time. He sold part of his estate to Joseph Gerc from Białokiernica, few acres to my brother-in-law Jan Laskowski and an acre or two each to local peasants. A significant part of the partitioned farmland, however was purchased by Marcin Marciniszyn, Jan Janiga and a man from Ostaszowce who purchased a portion of the meadows known as Wązkie and Ścieżka (Narrow and Path). In this way, once a huge manor passed entirely into the hands of the peasants which was just and fair.

I remembered how that manor looked like and the Paprocki mansion from before its destruction during the WWI. I sketched an outline of this manor and how the mansion looked like from before the year 1917 when it was completely destroyed.
I do not known when this mansion was built, however there was some evidence that it was built by the young Paprocki after arriving in Bogdanówka between 1840 and1850. The new mansion was built on the site of the old palace, which the Paprocki demolished.

As I wrote these words, I could not help but think of how remarkable was the time when the feudal manors were slowly divided between the hard working peasants who got much more out of the ground than the reigning Lords. I regret however, that I was not given an opportunity to farm this land for long.
Sometimes it surprises me that there are people who quickly forget their childhood paths on which he or she ran bare footed and washed them in the silver dew of which there is so few in the big Canadian cities. I remember a poem from my school years, written by a great poet Maria Konopnicka, in which she wrote about a family home. I could not fully understand its meaning when I was very young and living with my parents under one roof. I only now understand its meaning, after the fate of war deprived me of seeing those dearest to my heart, my family home and the surrounding areas.

Song about a Home
(By: Maria Konopnicka)

(Translated from Polish by John Janiga)

Do you love your home, the family home,
Which in summer night within the silver mist
With shimmering lindens blends with your dreams,
And with its silence soothing your tears?

Do you love this home, this very old roof,
Which tells the stories of gone by days,
Mossy old gate, familiar entrance,
Which greets your return from a thorny road?

Do you love this home, it’s refreshing scent,
Mowed grasses and tawny wheat,
Moist alders and wild roses,
Weaving flowers with hawthorn into your heir?

Do you love this home, this dark forest,
That with its hum and powerful song,
The ghostly groan and windy choir,
Flowing into thy boiling blood?

Do you love this home, your family home,
In midst of storms when in doubts bottom,
As your soul is struck with thunderbolt,
With its memories it is saving you?

Oh, if you love, and if you want,
To live under this roof and eat white bread,
Guard with your heart the native thresholds,
Placing your heart within your native home walls.

Jan Domański

Translated by John Janiga

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