Chapter 7

The first weeks of the change of the government were confusing. Many teenagers and young men volunteered as militiamen. They wore red bands on their sleeves and carried rifles. My cousin Edek was among them. Sometimes the weapon was in the hands of mentally deficient person. I have in mind a mentally retarded son of my piano teacher. He came up to our apartment very excited carrying the rifle. Mother talked him into giving her the weapon and she phoned his parents. Robert was sent to a mental institution near Wilno.

The communists in Lida were celebrating. They organized anti-capitalist demonstrations with long speeches. Most of the activists were Jews. There were some Bialorussian and  Polish socialists. I was surprised when I learned that my schoolmate Roman Skibniewski, with whom I was romantically involved at the mature age of 16, was a member of the underground socialist party. The joy in the change of government was in contrast with the uncertainty of what would happen to the owners of factories and the storekeepers, the estate owners and the real estate owners. It did not take long for the Soviet authorities to show their real face. In the beginning they organized the workers into a committee to take over the larger businesses and the factories with the owners as employees. In few weeks they bought up everything from the stores and with no new supplies available, the stores closed. Father organized a Polyclinic. Aunt Tanya with her husband Mietek Golembikier was in Wolozyn, Lisa with her family, husband Lowa, and children Etka born in 1927, Izia.born in 1929 were in Szczuczyn.  Aunt Liza was a dentist. Her husband Lowa was in the timber industry. Liza and  the children were killed in Majdanek. Tanya, Mietek and son Olek b. ‘37, survived fighting in the woods, as the members of the partisan army.

Our parents were so secure being in medical profession. They considered themselves to belong to the working class. With my Grandfather it was different. He owned three buildings, with stores and apartments and also he was in the lumber business. Grandpa received a special passport as a “property owner”. It had limitations.  We did not have any limitations in our passport.  The physicians and the dentists were allowed to have private practice under a condition that they also work in the city clinics and the hospitals for minimal pay.  Father became involved in organizing a Polyclinic and was nominated its director. It was in his character to be always at the top and so many times at the end he was pushed down and punished. It was so until the very end of his life in 1957 in Poland, where he served as a health commissioner of the city of Myslowice.

It was the fall of 1939. The refugees from the western part of Poland were passing through Lida, trying to reach Lithuania. There was a hope of escaping Europe, if visas to any country could be arranged. Big money was needed to survive in Wilno and to buy a permit to escape. Some of the refugees were able to pay for the guides to take them across the border. The border between the occupied territory and free Lithuania was a few kilometers north from Lida. There was an influx of refugees from the western part of Poland The West of Poland was under German occupation. The Eastern Poland became West Belarus and West Ukraine. The refugees needed housing.  Many families took in the refugees free of charge.  Some made money charging for a bed. The border crossing was illegal and dangerous. It became a profession to lead the refugees through the fields and forests into Lithuania. In the cold and snowy weather of December 1939 several families from Lida left for Wilno. Most had families abroad to help them as soon as they reach Lithuania.  The departures were so secret that we knew nothing until the person was not seen any more. The remaining population felt the “squeeze”. Some were forced from their homes. In other instances , like it was with us, first one room was taken away, than a second room, and finally we were left to live in the dining - living room and the parents’ bedroom, the kitchen, the bathroom and the maid’s room. We did not have the access to the front entrance and we could use the back entrance only. The staircase to the back entrance was narrow and steep. Finally we had to leave the apartment and to move to another apartment.  It happened after father was arrested and taken away.

With father still at home, we were doing very well. The practice was thriving. Father enjoyed his position in the Polyclinic. Ella had the last year of Gymnasium to complete. My friends were home, because the study in the Universities was disrupted. The University of Wilno was now in Lithuania. Germany occupied Warsaw. The only University available was in Lvov. We were not able to apply for admission to the university in the Soviet Union since we did not have Soviet citizenship. We were not permitted to travel unless we had a special document.  In the beginning of 1940 our Polish documents were taken away and we were provided with Soviet passports with a special enclosure-”A western Bialorussian”. We needed additional clearance to travel east to the Soviet Union proper.  The Polyclinic did not have enough medical supplies. Father was sure that he would be able to travel to Minsk to get the much-needed supplies. He went to the “mouth of the beast”, the NKVD to ask for the permit. It was not denied but he did not get it either. Liza went to Minsk to get the material and the drugs she needed for the clinic in Szczuczyn. She came to visit us on the way from Minsk. She looked elegant in a coat with a silver fox collar. Two Soviet officials accompanied her. Apparently her successful and pleasant trip inspired my father to ask for a permit to travel to Minsk.

In January of 1940 there was an influx of refugees. They had no official status and then they were ordered to apply for a permit to live in the occupied territories, but they were limited by the distance to the Lithuanian borders. Lida became out of limits since it was about 30 kilometers from the border.  Mother’s brother Zachary, who fled Lithuania with his family and settled in Lida, was forced to move to Stolpce.

The refugees from the Western part of Poland were in a panic. They had to register with the Soviet authority. They had two choices: Register for return to the section under German occupation, or accept a Soviet passport. They had no legal status and were hunted like animals. One day in the spring of 1940 all displaced people were rounded up and detained. They were taken  to a railroad station. There, they were packed, like animals, in train cars. There was rumor that the train would take them to the border with Germany, but the truth was- the train went East to forced labor settlements. The condition there was far from adequate, but still much better than GULAG. Families could stay together. Any one with a profession was able to work within his field of education. In comparison, in a Gulag, the labor was forced, and no consideration was given a profession except when needed.

Many of the refugees from Germany crossing the border to the Western Belarus or Ukraine were arrested on either side of the border. Sam, whom I married several years later, crossed the border at the end of November 1939. Sam left Krakow in a hurry. He was sure that his was a temporary move. He left his office, during  office hours, with the patients in the waiting room. His office was at Agnieszka St. 6. It was also his apartment. The son of the superintendent came running and told him that the Gestapo asked about him and that they were on the way. Sam did not waste any time. He left his lab coat, took money and some valuables from a drawer and left. He met the Gestapo at the door, but they did not stop him. He asked the super’s son to go to his mother and to tell her that he was on the way to Lvov, but will return soon. He was not even dressed properly for winter travel. While crossing the border he was arrested by the Soviets, jailed in the temporary jail. After few days they moved him to the jail in Kiew.  He was not able to get in touch with the family in Krakow. In the late spring he was sent to Gulag in the republic of Komi. It is where he and my father met. And it is where I met Sam in September 1941.

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