So once, already after the Germans had come, I met some buddies of mine who worked in that tile factory in Antoniuk, Wacek Dziejma, Marian Wolniewicz and some others, on the street. And Marian told me, ‘Listen Janina, you’re still having doubts, run off to the countryside, you’ll wait out the war and that’s it, look at yourself, don’t stay in Bialystok.’ So I thought that perhaps I really should leave the town. With my past I’d be the first one to go to the Gestapo and the family would suffer. And how much help could I be anyway? Just one more mouth to feed and there was no food in the house.
See text in interview
Meanwhile, a friend of my sister Dina, Grzegorz Lewi, was looking for me. He was graduating from gymnasium at that time, he was several years younger than I. We had a deal that we would leave Bialystok together. Grzegorz came looking for me, because he wanted to go. He only had a mother, his father was dead. My parents didn’t want to tell him where I was, but Dina knew him, so she said, ‘Listen Grzegorz, Janina is there and there.’ So that’s when we [with Grzegorz] decided to go. I had a piece of sausage and bread, butter that I was supposed to take to my husband, because it was a Sunday and it was left over in the house. And in the house, apart from what I was supposed to take to Janek, there was just this one bag with buckwheat groats. There was nothing more. We left, Mother even gave me her sweater, and we went east.
We got to Bielsk [Podlaski] [150 km east of Warsaw], where my husband’s family lived, they gave us some food, but we had to go on. We both decided to change names in Bielsk. Grzegorz found some Soviet identification card of a Ukrainian, he corrected the date of birth, put in his photograph, this was amateur work, but somehow during the war it was enough. So he became Ivan Carycynski, born in Stanislavyv.
In Bielsk Podlaski we spent the night at a woman’s house, the notary’s wife. Her husband wasn’t home. She gave us a room, some straw, a sheet. There was a large orchard there. And because it was summertime we filled up on fruit. And, what’s interesting, I went to the mayor of the city, he was a senator [that is, the officials working there addressed him as ‘Mr. Senator’]. Erdman, I remember this name. So I asked him for an identity card and hid my Soviet one. He asked for my name, I gave my chosen last name, Zurek, and he asked them to put on my identity card ‘born in Vawkavysk’ [300 km east of Warsaw, today Belarus].
Why in Vawkavysk? Because they had no identity cards there. What I mean is that in 1939 Soviet officials issued identity cards, but only to people who were born in a given town. But they wouldn’t issue identity cards to refugees from central or western Poland. That was because they claimed they didn’t know them and they would have to be checked. If they wanted to live in the interior of Russia, they could do so, but they were afraid to have them near the border. They thought they might be spies or something. So if I said I was from Bialystok, they would say, ‘Dear child, but where’s your passport?’
And so I said Vawkavysk, because Vawkavysk was burned down during the first military activities… I listed an area where there was no [documentation] and they could control me however long they wanted to and they still wouldn’t find anything. You have to be clever, when your life’s at stake. I said we were going to Stanislavyv, to my fiancé’s family and it’s very difficult to get anywhere without an identity card in wartime. The official didn’t want to issue anything, but Erdman told him to. So I now honor the ashes of those people who were so wise and decent then.
So this is how we ended up, after a long march, in Polyeskaya Nizina [about 400 km south east of Warsaw, today Ukraine]. Then we reached this small town in – Vysotsk [Rivne, Ukraine]. There was a fully Ukrainian government there, not Soviet.