Monday, August 20, 2007

The General Langfitt Story



The General Langfitt Story
Chapter 1 - Pre-War Poland
A total of 1181 refugees of the Second World War who had been in Africa between six and eight years, disembarked in Fremantle yesterday from the United States army transport General W. C. Langfitt ... about six hundred ... joined trains for Cunderdin and the remainder were sent to Northam ... The majority of adults were females ... there were many widows among the passengers.

This short column in the West Australian on Thursday 16 February 1950 announcing their arrival two days earlier1 gave little indication of the terrible history behind the 'General Langfitt Group', their enforced departure from their beloved homeland Poland, the atrocities and suffering they endured during the journey to and exile in Siberia, Kazakhstan and Arkhangel'sk districts, the years spent in refugee settlement camps or how they happened to arrive on Australian shores. They were simply another group of the many displaced persons who were arriving in Australia after the Second World War, uncertain of what their future here would offer.

Their dramatic story is told in this report.

In order to understand the background to the lives of the people included in this report, and the millions of other Poles displaced, deported and executed in the first half of the twentieth century, it is necessary to provide an overview of the history of Poland. This is a challenging task because few modern nations believe their long and glorious past has been so systematically misrepresented by other European historians. For the purposes of this report it has only been possible to select key turning points from a range of detailed historical interpretations and describe them in a summarised form. A list of key references is included in the bibliography.

Brief Historical Overview
Poland emerged as a kingdom in the tenth century, around the time that its monarchy was baptised in the Latin rites of the Roman Catholic Church, and grew into a huge state in the centre of Europe, stretching east into areas subsequently claimed by Russia. In its 'Golden Age' in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, Poland had created a unique political republic headed by elected kings who were directly responsible to the Diet, the parliament of nobles. This system made Poland almost ungovernable: while feudal institutions had prospered, the central powers were unable to control the independence of the landowners and foreign neighbours found it easy to intervene in the struggles between the king and the nobility.

In 1772 Austria, Prussia and Russia began a series of partitions of Poland which resulted in Poland disappearing from the map of Europe for 123 years. Polish patriotism became ever more closely aligned to the Roman Catholic Church, and against the creeds of their oppressors, German Protestantism and Russian Orthodoxy. Recurrent revolts in 1794, 1830-31, 1846, 1863-64 and 1905 kept the Polish question and national spirit alive.

Many Poles involved in these various insurrections were either killed or driven into exile. For example, one of the interviewees, Teresa Sosnowska's (nèe Zebrowska), paternal great-grandfather had been deported to Russia, with all his family, after the 1863 uprising. When he returned he settled as a farmer in the Lomza district, east of the River Vistula, where the family prospered until 1939. Another interviewee, Regina Tabaczynskia's (nèe Tijewski) paternal great grandfather left Poland after the 1863 insurrection, travelling Europe until he finally settled in Rumania, where he married a woman of Polish-Rumanian parents. He returned to Poland after the First World War and married in 1921. Similarly, Regina Tabaczynska's maternal grandfather also had to leave Poland after their estate was confiscated. His father and brother were deported to Russia, where they died. He settled for a time in Madrid, married a Spanish woman and then moved to Vienna, where Regina's mother was born in 1898. After the death of both parents and her first husband, she returned to Poland, which had reappeared on the map of Europe from the ashes of the First World War.

In 1919, the League of Nations sought to implement Woodrow Wilson's Fourteen Points, which included the principle of national self-determination. It was considered impossible to recreate Polish boundaries of 1772 because the Poland of 1772 had included substantial non-Polish areas and because nearly a century and a half had caused many changes. The League of Nations diplomats used a German census of 1910 as a guideline to the ethnic composition of the western region, a tool which many Polish historians claim to have been far from impartial. The Prussian provinces of Poznan and Pomerania, as well as the corridor to the Baltic, were ethnically Polish. The port of Danzig created problems because the urban centre was German but the environs were Polish. The result was that Danzig was declared a free city belonging to neither country - a solution guaranteed to magnify local tensions and foster national hatreds in the region. The southern province of Silesia had been ethnically Polish before partition, but a century of industrial development had altered the ethnic map of the area and had made the region particularly sought after. The diplomatic solution proffered by the League of Nations was to split the region along an east-west axis, with the richer region going to Germany. The southern region of Silesia was divided between Poland and Czechoslovakia.

The solution to determining the eastern boundaries was a north south divide along the Bug River, under the direction of Lord Curzon, known as the Curzon Line. This arrangement left the centres of Wilno in Lithuania and Lwów in the Ukraine under temporary Polish administration. This proved to be no more than a diplomatic solution and had little effect. The eastern frontier was in turmoil as the Russian Civil War raged and as the Poles took control of land west of the Curzon Line and then pushed east. Under Josef Pilsudski, the Poles renewed war with Russia in 1920 and advanced the frontier more than 160 kilometres eastward, where it was fixed by the Treaty of Riga in 1921. This new frontier left Poland with de facto if not de jure control of both Lwów and Wilno and meant that some 80 000 Russians, 1500 000 Byelorussians and nearly 5 000 000 Ukrainians came under Polish rule (Davies, 1983, p. 406). Over 2 000 000 Poles were left outside the boundaries of the new Polish state (Zamoyski, 1987, p. 38). The new Poland and the new communist Russia started relations with a legacy of mistrust and bitterness which had deep historical roots. As Timothy Gordon Ash (1991, p. 5) has observed, Polish national identity can be historically defined in terms of a lengthy opposition to Russia far more profound than a straightforward dispute of borders. Political and religious differences over several centuries had been equally significant.

The First World War and the shifting frontiers left in their wake considerable damage and dislocation. An estimated 13 per cent (4 000 000 people) of the total population of Poland died through military action, exile, disease and famine. Industry and agriculture were exhausted through the war effort and both communication and administrative structures were in tatters. Reconstruction of Poland meant starting from scratch. Inter-war Poland was overwhelmingly agricultural, with over 75 per cent of the population dependent on agriculture in 1919. By 1939 this had decreased to 60 per cent but, despite the efforts to develop the east of Poland, it was still considerably poorer than the west. The remnants of the aristocracy and the intelligentsia, those with a higher education who performed 'mental work' rather than physical labour, formed a coherent class engaged in teaching, clerical work, government service and administration, the Church and the police force.

Inter-war Poland was not only stratified along economic but also ethnic lines. The 1931 census showed that less than 70 per cent of the population were Polish. Eastern Slavs, mostly Ukrainians, made up nearly 19 per cent of the population, Germans made up 4 per cent of the population in the western regions and Jews made up a total 10 per cent. Religious affiliation mirrored ethnic status fairly closely. Jews and Germans were urban dwellers engaged mostly in industry and commerce. Byelorussians and Ukrainians were mostly peasants settled in the eastern regions close to the borders which separated them from their brethren in Russia (Ascherson, 1987, p. 59; Garrison Walters, 1988, p. 182).2

It was to these new eastern provinces that many Polish soldiers and their families moved as farmer settlers in the following decade. These soldiers were granted small plots of land as a reward for their patriotism, and to help re-establish Polish claims to the area. Maria Sosnowska was one of those who moved east:

I was only 17 when I married a returned soldier in 1923. He had fought in the war against Bolshevik Russia in 1920 and we moved to Polesie,3 in the eastern part of Poland, to the soldier settlements. Our settlement consisted of a variety of people - officers, junior officers and ordinary soldiers - so our lives became rich culturally. I liked the local people as well. Some of them were very poor but they were very clean and decent. The Byelorussian women did not want to belong to our associations but relations between us were good. I was godmother to some Byelorussian children and we would visit each other's houses. Even on Christmas Eve, which is a special time when Polish families get together to break a wafer, we would get together. Later when I was being deported one of them brought me a big loaf of bread. That was a great help to me.

At first, we had to live in temporary accommodation which we built. When you start a farm, the out-buildings are more important than the house itself because you have to have storage for grains and for the animals in winter. Of course, children started coming so it was pretty hard but we were all young. Eventually we built quite a big house because we had help from my husband's father, who was also a farmer. It was a close community and very busy as we built our social life and organised different associations. We had a theatrical group that was well known in the area, and I was also a member of the 'Country Women's Association' which organised sewing, baking, cooking and gardening courses for the Polish women. Many of the courses were held at our house because we were near the main road.

The new state introduced seven years of compulsory schooling and managed to achieve this despite only the most rudimentary school system in the eastern provinces. After this, education was elitist. Although technically free and accessible to all, only 7 per cent of high school children came from a peasant or labouring background (Ascherson, 1987, p.182). Maria Sosnowska recalled the efforts to get schools and churches established:

Before the First World War there had been a school in the next village but when the Germans came they took it apart and shifted it somewhere else so there was no school. Our settlement was between two villages and we wanted a school in our settlement so my husband and one of our neighbours, who had been a captain in the Polish army, went to the city to get permission to build a school. They were told that the school couldn't be started if there were less than twenty children. The problem was that there were only five Polish children. The rest were Byelorussians who didn't want to go to school. The Polish government was very concerned about the education of the people and an inspector came and told these Byelorussian families that they would be fined if they did not send their children to school. They started to come to school and we built a double-storey school house in about 1929. It was a beautiful building and we had good teachers, so the school was known in the district for its excellence.
Religion was very important to most Polish people and although we didn't have a church we lived on the edge of a great land-holding where there was a chapel. This chapel was open to everyone and my husband was on the church committee.

Stanislawa Jutrzenka-Trzebiatowska (Adamska nèe Grzelak) was born in 1907 in Kolo, west of Warsaw, the second eldest in a family of twelve children.


Family photograph 1931 (Courtesy of Stanislawa Jutrzenka-Trzebiatowska)

The area we lived in was under Russian rule so there was no schooling in our village, only informal schooling was available. Girls were not allowed to go to school. A friend who was a teacher helped our parents to find a school for my elder brother and me about twenty kilometres from my parents' place. When we had two or three school-free days we would go home by train. We would hold hands because by the time we got to our parents' house it would be getting dark.

In 1925 and 26 I did my teaching training, after which I taught in the next village to where I lived. I taught for six years and then in 1935 I married Henryk Adamski, who was also a teacher. After we were married I changed my place of residence to a village near Pinsk, in eastern Poland, where my husband lived. There was a big school there and we taught there together. My daughter Danuta Teresa was born in 1936. I had only one daughter because we were together for only four years.

Krystyna Jarzebowska and her sister Halina Juszczyk (nèe Kojder) were born in the ex-servicemen's settlement of Niechiewicze, near Novogrod, in eastern Poland. Their father had been only 17 when he joined the Polish army as a legionnaire in the First World War. As a consequence he never finished his studies at business college, choosing instead to take up a land grant in eastern Poland, like many of his army colleagues.
Religion was very important to most Polish people and although we didn't have a church we lived on the edge of a great land-holding where there was a chapel. This chapel was open to everyone and my husband was on the church committee.

Stanislawa Jutrzenka-Trzebiatowska (Adamska nèe Grzelak) was born in 1907 in Kolo, west of Warsaw, the second eldest in a family of twelve children.


Family photograph 1931 (Courtesy of Stanislawa Jutrzenka-Trzebiatowska)

The area we lived in was under Russian rule so there was no schooling in our village, only informal schooling was available. Girls were not allowed to go to school. A friend who was a teacher helped our parents to find a school for my elder brother and me about twenty kilometres from my parents' place. When we had two or three school-free days we would go home by train. We would hold hands because by the time we got to our parents' house it would be getting dark.

In 1925 and 26 I did my teaching training, after which I taught in the next village to where I lived. I taught for six years and then in 1935 I married Henryk Adamski, who was also a teacher. After we were married I changed my place of residence to a village near Pinsk, in eastern Poland, where my husband lived. There was a big school there and we taught there together. My daughter Danuta Teresa was born in 1936. I had only one daughter because we were together for only four years.

Krystyna Jarzebowska and her sister Halina Juszczyk (nèe Kojder) were born in the ex-servicemen's settlement of Niechiewicze, near Novogrod, in eastern Poland. Their father had been only 17 when he joined the Polish army as a legionnaire in the First World War. As a consequence he never finished his studies at business college, choosing instead to take up a land grant in eastern Poland, like many of his army colleagues.
Religion was very important to most Polish people and although we didn't have a church we lived on the edge of a great land-holding where there was a chapel. This chapel was open to everyone and my husband was on the church committee.

Stanislawa Jutrzenka-Trzebiatowska (Adamska nèe Grzelak) was born in 1907 in Kolo, west of Warsaw, the second eldest in a family of twelve children.


Family photograph 1931 (Courtesy of Stanislawa Jutrzenka-Trzebiatowska)

The area we lived in was under Russian rule so there was no schooling in our village, only informal schooling was available. Girls were not allowed to go to school. A friend who was a teacher helped our parents to find a school for my elder brother and me about twenty kilometres from my parents' place. When we had two or three school-free days we would go home by train. We would hold hands because by the time we got to our parents' house it would be getting dark.

In 1925 and 26 I did my teaching training, after which I taught in the next village to where I lived. I taught for six years and then in 1935 I married Henryk Adamski, who was also a teacher. After we were married I changed my place of residence to a village near Pinsk, in eastern Poland, where my husband lived. There was a big school there and we taught there together. My daughter Danuta Teresa was born in 1936. I had only one daughter because we were together for only four years.

Krystyna Jarzebowska and her sister Halina Juszczyk (nèe Kojder) were born in the ex-servicemen's settlement of Niechiewicze, near Novogrod, in eastern Poland. Their father had been only 17 when he joined the Polish army as a legionnaire in the First World War. As a consequence he never finished his studies at business college, choosing instead to take up a land grant in eastern Poland, like many of his army colleagues.
Religion was very important to most Polish people and although we didn't have a church we lived on the edge of a great land-holding where there was a chapel. This chapel was open to everyone and my husband was on the church committee.

Stanislawa Jutrzenka-Trzebiatowska (Adamska nèe Grzelak) was born in 1907 in Kolo, west of Warsaw, the second eldest in a family of twelve children.


Family photograph 1931 (Courtesy of Stanislawa Jutrzenka-Trzebiatowska)

The area we lived in was under Russian rule so there was no schooling in our village, only informal schooling was available. Girls were not allowed to go to school. A friend who was a teacher helped our parents to find a school for my elder brother and me about twenty kilometres from my parents' place. When we had two or three school-free days we would go home by train. We would hold hands because by the time we got to our parents' house it would be getting dark.

In 1925 and 26 I did my teaching training, after which I taught in the next village to where I lived. I taught for six years and then in 1935 I married Henryk Adamski, who was also a teacher. After we were married I changed my place of residence to a village near Pinsk, in eastern Poland, where my husband lived. There was a big school there and we taught there together. My daughter Danuta Teresa was born in 1936. I had only one daughter because we were together for only four years.

Krystyna Jarzebowska and her sister Halina Juszczyk (nèe Kojder) were born in the ex-servicemen's settlement of Niechiewicze, near Novogrod, in eastern Poland. Their father had been only 17 when he joined the Polish army as a legionnaire in the First World War. As a consequence he never finished his studies at business college, choosing instead to take up a land grant in eastern Poland, like many of his army colleagues.
Religion was very important to most Polish people and although we didn't have a church we lived on the edge of a great land-holding where there was a chapel. This chapel was open to everyone and my husband was on the church committee.

Stanislawa Jutrzenka-Trzebiatowska (Adamska nèe Grzelak) was born in 1907 in Kolo, west of Warsaw, the second eldest in a family of twelve children.


Family photograph 1931 (Courtesy of Stanislawa Jutrzenka-Trzebiatowska)

The area we lived in was under Russian rule so there was no schooling in our village, only informal schooling was available. Girls were not allowed to go to school. A friend who was a teacher helped our parents to find a school for my elder brother and me about twenty kilometres from my parents' place. When we had two or three school-free days we would go home by train. We would hold hands because by the time we got to our parents' house it would be getting dark.

In 1925 and 26 I did my teaching training, after which I taught in the next village to where I lived. I taught for six years and then in 1935 I married Henryk Adamski, who was also a teacher. After we were married I changed my place of residence to a village near Pinsk, in eastern Poland, where my husband lived. There was a big school there and we taught there together. My daughter Danuta Teresa was born in 1936. I had only one daughter because we were together for only four years.

Krystyna Jarzebowska and her sister Halina Juszczyk (nèe Kojder) were born in the ex-servicemen's settlement of Niechiewicze, near Novogrod, in eastern Poland. Their father had been only 17 when he joined the Polish army as a legionnaire in the First World War. As a consequence he never finished his studies at business college, choosing instead to take up a land grant in eastern Poland, like many of his army colleagues.
Religion was very important to most Polish people and although we didn't have a church we lived on the edge of a great land-holding where there was a chapel. This chapel was open to everyone and my husband was on the church committee.

Stanislawa Jutrzenka-Trzebiatowska (Adamska nèe Grzelak) was born in 1907 in Kolo, west of Warsaw, the second eldest in a family of twelve children.


Family photograph 1931 (Courtesy of Stanislawa Jutrzenka-Trzebiatowska)

The area we lived in was under Russian rule so there was no schooling in our village, only informal schooling was available. Girls were not allowed to go to school. A friend who was a teacher helped our parents to find a school for my elder brother and me about twenty kilometres from my parents' place. When we had two or three school-free days we would go home by train. We would hold hands because by the time we got to our parents' house it would be getting dark.

In 1925 and 26 I did my teaching training, after which I taught in the next village to where I lived. I taught for six years and then in 1935 I married Henryk Adamski, who was also a teacher. After we were married I changed my place of residence to a village near Pinsk, in eastern Poland, where my husband lived. There was a big school there and we taught there together. My daughter Danuta Teresa was born in 1936. I had only one daughter because we were together for only four years.

Krystyna Jarzebowska and her sister Halina Juszczyk (nèe Kojder) were born in the ex-servicemen's settlement of Niechiewicze, near Novogrod, in eastern Poland. Their father had been only 17 when he joined the Polish army as a legionnaire in the First World War. As a consequence he never finished his studies at business college, choosing instead to take up a land grant in eastern Poland, like many of his army colleagues.
Religion was very important to most Polish people and although we didn't have a church we lived on the edge of a great land-holding where there was a chapel. This chapel was open to everyone and my husband was on the church committee.

Stanislawa Jutrzenka-Trzebiatowska (Adamska nèe Grzelak) was born in 1907 in Kolo, west of Warsaw, the second eldest in a family of twelve children.


Family photograph 1931 (Courtesy of Stanislawa Jutrzenka-Trzebiatowska)

The area we lived in was under Russian rule so there was no schooling in our village, only informal schooling was available. Girls were not allowed to go to school. A friend who was a teacher helped our parents to find a school for my elder brother and me about twenty kilometres from my parents' place. When we had two or three school-free days we would go home by train. We would hold hands because by the time we got to our parents' house it would be getting dark.

In 1925 and 26 I did my teaching training, after which I taught in the next village to where I lived. I taught for six years and then in 1935 I married Henryk Adamski, who was also a teacher. After we were married I changed my place of residence to a village near Pinsk, in eastern Poland, where my husband lived. There was a big school there and we taught there together. My daughter Danuta Teresa was born in 1936. I had only one daughter because we were together for only four years.

Krystyna Jarzebowska and her sister Halina Juszczyk (nèe Kojder) were born in the ex-servicemen's settlement of Niechiewicze, near Novogrod, in eastern Poland. Their father had been only 17 when he joined the Polish army as a legionnaire in the First World War. As a consequence he never finished his studies at business college, choosing instead to take up a land grant in eastern Poland, like many of his army colleagues.
Religion was very important to most Polish people and although we didn't have a church we lived on the edge of a great land-holding where there was a chapel. This chapel was open to everyone and my husband was on the church committee.

Stanislawa Jutrzenka-Trzebiatowska (Adamska nèe Grzelak) was born in 1907 in Kolo, west of Warsaw, the second eldest in a family of twelve children.


Family photograph 1931 (Courtesy of Stanislawa Jutrzenka-Trzebiatowska)

The area we lived in was under Russian rule so there was no schooling in our village, only informal schooling was available. Girls were not allowed to go to school. A friend who was a teacher helped our parents to find a school for my elder brother and me about twenty kilometres from my parents' place. When we had two or three school-free days we would go home by train. We would hold hands because by the time we got to our parents' house it would be getting dark.

In 1925 and 26 I did my teaching training, after which I taught in the next village to where I lived. I taught for six years and then in 1935 I married Henryk Adamski, who was also a teacher. After we were married I changed my place of residence to a village near Pinsk, in eastern Poland, where my husband lived. There was a big school there and we taught there together. My daughter Danuta Teresa was born in 1936. I had only one daughter because we were together for only four years.

Krystyna Jarzebowska and her sister Halina Juszczyk (nèe Kojder) were born in the ex-servicemen's settlement of Niechiewicze, near Novogrod, in eastern Poland. Their father had been only 17 when he joined the Polish army as a legionnaire in the First World War. As a consequence he never finished his studies at business college, choosing instead to take up a land grant in eastern Poland, like many of his army colleagues.
Religion was very important to most Polish people and although we didn't have a church we lived on the edge of a great land-holding where there was a chapel. This chapel was open to everyone and my husband was on the church committee.

Stanislawa Jutrzenka-Trzebiatowska (Adamska nèe Grzelak) was born in 1907 in Kolo, west of Warsaw, the second eldest in a family of twelve children.


Family photograph 1931 (Courtesy of Stanislawa Jutrzenka-Trzebiatowska)

The area we lived in was under Russian rule so there was no schooling in our village, only informal schooling was available. Girls were not allowed to go to school. A friend who was a teacher helped our parents to find a school for my elder brother and me about twenty kilometres from my parents' place. When we had two or three school-free days we would go home by train. We would hold hands because by the time we got to our parents' house it would be getting dark.

In 1925 and 26 I did my teaching training, after which I taught in the next village to where I lived. I taught for six years and then in 1935 I married Henryk Adamski, who was also a teacher. After we were married I changed my place of residence to a village near Pinsk, in eastern Poland, where my husband lived. There was a big school there and we taught there together. My daughter Danuta Teresa was born in 1936. I had only one daughter because we were together for only four years.

Krystyna Jarzebowska and her sister Halina Juszczyk (nèe Kojder) were born in the ex-servicemen's settlement of Niechiewicze, near Novogrod, in eastern Poland. Their father had been only 17 when he joined the Polish army as a legionnaire in the First World War. As a consequence he never finished his studies at business college, choosing instead to take up a land grant in eastern Poland, like many of his army colleagues.

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