Polish-Ukrainian War, 1918-1919

Father returns from the Italian front

Before Christmas of 1918, to our great joy, father returned from the Italian front. He went through many dangerous places and traveled hundreds of miles, mostly on foot. The war front near Lwów cut out his direct path, so he had to take round about route through Rawa Ruska and Żółkiew to Milatyn and from there he walked home. We were glad that finally, there will be someone taking care of our home and the family. I never expect that our joy will change so quickly. When my father looked at the condition of our farm and its resources, when he saw that everything was in ruins, he became tense and agitated. He was sour, angry and dissatisfied, almost every day.
The barn was empty and stripped of the wood sidings. The stables were without troughs or any cattle. Roofs riddled with holes through which rain poured down, and there was nothing to fix it with. Our food was mediocre, there was a shortage of butter and lard, and we only could dream about getting any coffee or sugar. My mother made coffee by burning grain and used saccharin as a sweetener, which was also difficult to get. My father could see that just to bring the buildings to a reasonable condition, he needed lots of money, which he did not have, and hard work. He held a special grudge against me which I could read in his eyes, but for now he did not say anything. He would only torment my mother that she could not keep the kids in check with discipline. I listened to it biting my lips, but I did not participate in their arguments. Until one evening, I found my mother crying and my father sitting by the table looking dejected.
“Mother, why are you crying?” I asked.
“Ask your father.”
It was then that my father did not wait and began to read his ‘Pater Noster,’ while the hair on my neck stood on an end.
“You managed the farm with your mother so well that I don’t know what to do now. You only kept your butts worm throughout the war and let everything fall apart.” He said with anger.
“We kept our butts warm and nothing else?”
Listening to these unjustified accusations, I raised my voice;
“There is not a grain of truth in what you are saying. It is a pity that father was away fighting in the war and yet did not see what the war can do. War ended for dad and so did the military kitchen and now you need to think about your own kitchen, where there is nothing to cook. There are no military stores giving out goods, and if dad is such a miracle worker then make something out of nothing. You do not need to berate stressed out mother, who went through hell, just roll up your sleeves and start working. Francisco, Karol or Józef will not give you anything more.”
“Quiet you little shit!” My father yelled.
“If I am a little shit then what do you demand from me. You want the child to farm the land and manage the farm when adults could not do it.”
A few sharp exchanges of words led my father to impetuous passion. He sprang up from the chair and slapped me hard across my face. A quarrel begun between my mother and father. I took my hat and walked out of the house. I felt an unbearable pain and in the dark stable I cried like a baby. I could not understand why my father, whom we awaited for so long, did not understand our situation. Why he did not understand the position of a woman who was left alone with five children and had to keep these children alive during the war. Why, as a soldier, he did not understand how difficult it was to survive through four years of this raging storm that rolled back and forth sowing devastation and death. The black spectre, that lurked every day and night, was not something pleasant and from which it was difficult to hide.
When I was thinking about it all, and that as a child I did not yet knew life or paternal warmth, I felt hate and anger towards my father for that my youngest years were going by in such a sad state. The cold indifference of my father towards my mother, who was such a good mother, apathy aroused in me towards my father and with it lack of willingness to help out. I was only sixteen years old, but my life experiences made me mature beyond my age.
My mother begged me not mention this incident to anyone. She did not want domestic quarrels to go beyond the threshold of our home. My sister Katarzyna was already of marrying age and such information could have affected peoples opinion about a young girl and her prospects for marriage.
Father began visiting our neighbours in the evenings, or they would come to us for a chat, and soon he found out that it was not only in our house, but everywhere one and the same poverty. He then began to think with a more open mind and realized his mistake. He began talking to me more like a father, and I tried to forget what transpired and help him with the daily chores. One time, when we were repairing our stable, father and I started talking about life during the war. Our views were not exactly in agreement and then I told my father openly;
“War is not yet over, and may be you will find out the hard way for yourself, what war means to the defenseless civilian population, which we endured over the four long years.”
My words soon became a prophecy. My father, within a very short time, found out what it meant to live during the war as a civilian. He then realized that what was said to him was by a mature adult and not by some inexperienced kid, as he originally thought.

We celebrated Christmas and the New Year of 1919 together in good health and improving domestic situation with my father. Severe winter dampened the war front near Lwów and it was generally peaceful in the country. Few young men, who returned from the war and were not taken to the Ukrainian army, began to marry in a hurry, ignoring that the war was not yet over. My cousin Maria Jaremko got engaged to Mikołaj Laskowski and my sister Katarzyna to Mikołaj Nowak, son of Tomasz and Anna. We had two weddings during the February carnival, my cousin’s and my sister’s. Several other marriages took place that winter.

Jan Domański

Translated by John Janiga

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