My Sad Memories of Palikrowy
In the fall of 1943, I was 10 years old, and living with my family in the village of Palikrowy. On a snowy day, two German soldiers came into town, fully armed and in complete uniform. They each carried a "Mauserr" automatic rifle and had between them, several grenades. Alongside the the soldiers stood a Jew, who was supposedly their companion, and carried a pistol with some extra magazines, and two grenades. They were deserters from the German army. One of the Germans, as well as the Jew, spoke Polish very well, and begged us to give them shelter for a little while. The polish-speaking one went went by the name of Genek, short for Eugeniusz, and the Jewish man was named Tadeusz. Their arrival brought such happiness to our community. There were rumors thrown around that they were truly Poles, who had been pressed into service. To myself, and the people of my town, they brought hope that perhaps better times may be ahead.
At the time, our village had an improvised defense organization to protect against the local Ukrainians. There were many veterans living in our town, my father included. With the help of local volunteers, they established a sort of military structure and gave us some feeling of security. Any man with a gun could come, and this meant that their weapons ranged from brand new automatic rifles to antiquated and sometimes repurposed muskets. Still, they did what they could. Each night, a watch was set up. The guard was divided into two groups. One kept the watch, while the others rested, and after a certain amount of time they would switch off. The lengths of ones shift varied throughout the year. It depended on the time of year, weather, temperature, and other factors. In addition to this, wooden barricades ringed with barbed wire were set each night on the bridges leading to Podkamien and Kutyszcze. That particular autumn, the river Siorła that ran along my grandfatherr's property was dammed up. The dam was located beyond the village, underneath Łysą Górą, facing Kutyszcze. My grandfather, Jan Krąpiec knew the strategic placement of this river. The dam caused the river to overflow, and flooded the meadows along the village to the east and north. The water, at its deepest, was probably only somewhere around 3 feet deep, but it still provided a degree of security. With this new buffer, it was possible to focus attention to the west and the south. However, it also isolated people living beyond the floods, and left them more vulnerable to attack. These people were largely what were called "Piłsudski's Settlers" Polish settlers and veterans given land in the newly Polish Ukraine as a reward for service in the Polish-Soviet War of 1920. At night, they would go into the village and stay with family, friends, or acquaintances, and return to their homes when the sun rose.
The leaders of our villages Polish defense were: Józef Fedorowicz, Wawrzyk Ziombra (under the alias of Poleszuk), Piotr Bieguszewski, Wróbel, and others. Unfortunately, I don't remember the rest of their names. One night, the bandits snuck into the village, and captured Piotr Bieguszewski. They tortured him in order to get him to give up the names of the others commanders. First, they carved an eagle into his chest, to mark him as a Pole. Then, they cut off his ears, because he would not hear their questions. When he still would not talk, they cut off his tongue, and put it in his shirt pocket. Finally, they dragged his broken body into a stable, and burned him alive.
One day, a Ukrainian policeman in our town was found dead. He had been murdered by Tomasz Jurczenko, a boy living in our town. When the Germans came, they tried to take him and his brother to work as labor-slaves in Germany. To avoid this, he went into hiding with his brother Józef and murdered his neighbor Jan Sokiła, a Ukrainian who had been hunting them for quite some time. I remember how Jan Sokiła used to show the Ukrainian children of our town old photo albums, taken from raiding Jewish homes. He would talk angrily about these people, condemning their wealth and expensive clothing. He instilled this sense of contempt for the rich in many of the townsfolk. He became a sort of local celebrity, and used to boast and describe himself as a hero fighting for a glorious, and independent Ukraine.
In the time that they occupied the area, the Germans seldom visited our village. Between the underground members of UPA, and our own small Polish defense, I like to think they may have been a bit afraid of us. On New Years Eve before 1944, a group of Soviet partisans arrived in Palikrowy. It had been a long time since anyone in our village had seen such a display of men and horses, and we welcomed them with open arms. The horses were brought into stables, or tied to fences, and fed until they could eat no more. We brought the partisans into our homes, and celebrated their arrival. They contacted their commanding officers via radio, and gave them their location. It was said there were 3,000 of them in hiding nearby. At some point in the night, one of their officers was approached by Tadeusz and one of the other Germans who had come with him. They asked to join the partisans in their fight against the Wehrmacht. I witnessed the officer ordain them into the company, and the next morning, they rode off into the woods with the rest of them. To be honest, I was sad to see them go. The other German, Genek, chose to stay in the village, but he hadnr17;t stayed with us. Tadeusz had been living in our house, where he was kept warm and well-fed. When he would ask my mother why she was generous in feeding him, she told him, "My son Władzio is lost somewhere far in Siberia, taken into the Soviet military as punishment for being the son of a kulak. Maybe someone is feeding him as well." My brother did eventually come back, but his time in the cold had left him with a useless, frostbitten right arm, and tuberculosis. He died of the illness a couple of years after the war ended.
It was Sunday, March 12th, 1944. The snow had melted, the sun was shining, and spring was very much on its way. All around the village, the earth was warm and fertile. That morning, at around 8 or 9, our village was surrounded by the UPA, and soldiers from the SS Galizien Tarnopol. They set up artillery on the road to Podkamien, and announced their presence by firing off two artillery rounds into the air. At first, we thought it may have come from the front. The fighting was never too far away, and such sounds were not new to us. When we realized what was happening, the men hid their weapons. Bandits we could handle, but a fight against the SS would kill us all. We fell into the hands of the UPA, and paid for it. People scrambled to find places to hide. My sister, Józefa and I ran to the home of our family friend Jan Jurczenko. He had built, under his barn, a disguised basement. He had buried the original entrance, and built a second, well-hidden one nearby. He met us in his orchard, and told us that he had already sealed the entrance, and he himself would not go down there so that someone else may hide. r0;Go home, children,r1; he told us. My sister and I found shelter with a man who lived in our neighbor, Mikołaj Jadwinczuk. He was a Ukrainian, but had a Polish wife, and was a good man. The hideout itself was little more than a hole in the ground covered by a haystack, but it had been dug in secrecy, and that was all that mattered. On this long and terrible day 24 of us sat there and waited. My neighbors wife fed us bread to keep us occupied. Here, we waited, sitting in silence so as not to arouse suspicion.
We emerged that night, and looked upon the horror around us. The sky was lit orange and red by fire kindled with Polish homes. The bandits had raided Polish homes, stolen valuables, and burnt whatever they could not take. My uncle Piotr Krąpiec thought of Jasio Jurczenko and his family, whom we had tried to hide with earlier. We ran with him to see if everybody was safe. We came to his home, and saw how it had been burned to the ground, and the barn along with it. My uncle climbed into the smoldering embers to see if he could find them. He pried the entrance open, and called for his friend. No one answered. He, and 12 others had suffocated. If my sister and I had gotten there earlier, we would have laid among the dead. We figured that he had climbed down there after we left. I remember thinking how there must have been an angel watching over us. As we wandered through the ruins of our village, the grandmother of one of my friends, Tadzia Dańczuk, came to us in tears and told us, "My children, you have nothing left to hide for, your father and grandfather have been murdered."
The UPA had rounded up all the townspeople it could find. They held a sort of selection. Janka Kobiakowska (named Wasylinka after marriage), Maryna Dyszluk, an old Ukrainian named Kutniak and a couple of others, went through and picked out the Poles from the Ukrainians. The Ukrainians were allowed to return to their homes. The Poles, however, were ordered to stay. Two machine guns were set up, a final prayer was said, and the meadows of Palikrowy were watered with the blood of innocent lives. Afterwards, the butchers went through, and executed anyone who had survived. They stripped their victims of valuables, and fine clothing, and left them there to rot. Then, they went into the village, looted every Polish home they could, and set fire to anything that was left. They rode off into the night atop wagons loaded with the spoils of their so-called victory. As they left us, 367 Poles lay dead in a meadow. Among them lay my grandfather, Jan Krąpiec, my teacher, Nagi and her husband, whose names I no longer remember, and a great many Poles from the nearby city of Wołyń, which had suffered a similar tragedy Many survivors had come to us, and we had taken them in in the hopes that they might have been safe with us. Once again, we had been wrong.
We wandered through the village, looking for survivors, all the while weeping for those we could not find, and those we'd known we had lost. As the cattle screamed in panic, the cries of the village people joined them. When the sun began to rise, most of us fled to the nearby village of Maliniska, where my uncle Stanisław Siczyński lived. We got there early in the morning, while the townsfolk still slept. He took us in, made us breakfast, and we told him of all that had happened. We thought we would be safe in Maliniska. We were wrong. Before long, we heard two shots. The same two artillery shots we had heard just the previous morning. They were coming for us. Just when we had escaped, it was time to run away again. This time, we had nowhere to run, so we ran back to our home. To Palikrowy. All day we ran through field and forest as bandits chased, and shot at us. It was myself, my parents, and my sister. We ran with a group of children from Maliniska. They were siblingsr12; six of them, the oldest was a girl, and only in 7th grade. Their parents had been murdered.
We returned to our village. Our neighbor, a Ukrainian, hid us in her basement. The entrance was in the stables, underneath the feeding troughs for the cows. We hid there for about two weeks, until the Russians arrived, sending the bandits and their German accomplices running. On this day, I was walking through the village when I met my friend Kazik Moczarę. He was dressed in a thin grey jacket, and walked very slowly, supporting himself with a stick he had found somewhere. His face was pale. I ran up to him,
"Kazik, what happened to you?" He told me what had happened in the meadow, how the SS and UPA rounded up innocent men, women, and children, and mowed them down with machine guns. Kazik had been there with his mother father, and two younger brothers. As he talked, I realized why he had been walking so slowly,
"I've been wounded," he said in a soft voice. I was at the meadow when the shooting began. After it stopped, I hid under the bodies until everyone had left. I went to my grandmothers house, but no one was there. I ate the food that was left, and now i'm going to my aunts, and see if I can find somebody. She doesn't know that i'm still alive."
"Where did they wound you?" I asked.
|It hurts me here"; he said, pointing to a rust-colored stain on his stomach, "but the bullet didn';t go through, because it doesn't hurt me anywhere else."
He survived a few more days at his aunts house. Kazik's parents, as well as his two younger brothers, were murdered alongside 363 other Poles on that fateful day.
When the killing was done, the UPA had a meeting in Podkamien. They compared results, tallied up their counts, and came to a conclusion about just how many Poles they had managed to kill. They met in the town monastery, whose inhabitants had been among the slaughtered. One of the men brought with him a captive, a woman from Palikrowy. I do not remember her name, but she was the mother of Stefania Dajczak, a woman who lived in our town. The men wished to make a decoration of her, so she was hung by the neck by her woolen shawl in the entrance to the chapel. The shawl ripped, so to finish her off, one of the men took his bayonet and stabbed her in the chest. Unable to move, she lay there for days, waiting for death. When the townsfolk came to remove the bodies, they loaded her onto the cart along with the others to be thrown into a mass grave. She woke up as the hanging took her sight, and she was blind for the rest of her life.
The German, Genek, who had stayed with us, turned out to be a traitor. When the bandits came, he and my cousin Janina Krąpiec fled separately to Maliniska. When it came time to flee again, they fled to Podkamien, where they planned to hide away in the monastery, as so many others did. When they came there, Genek led her instead to the home of a tailor whom my cousin had been friends with. Janina then watched as he approached the German officers, saluted, and was welcomed back with open arms. He had been working with the Germans all along.
In the meadow where this horror took place, there stands a monument. It reads, "In this place, on March 12th, 1944, 367 people lost their lives in the time of war."There is no mention of the SS. There is not a word written about the UPA. They killed many many more over the course of the war, but time has made it difficult to find a set number, let alone know all their names. Today, Ukrainians called these butchers war criminals, soldiers of an insurgent army. What kind of a soldier takes pride in murdering small children with axes? I will be satisfied as long as my memories are recorded, and remembered.
I send good health and warm regards to my family, the Poles of Milno, and the people of Podole.
Jan Lis, Gorzów Wielkopolski.