The Wolk Family

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Story of Rescue - The Wolk Family

Irma Zofia Urbańska was born in Aleksandrowsk in 1885, the daughter of a country estate owner in Podol. In 1918, she left for Poland and settled in Warsaw. Shortly afterwards, her mother followed her, together with her disabled daughter. He father went missing during the war and was never found. In 1922, Irma married Stanisław Wołk, the owner of a country estate in Czartajew near Siemiatycze. They had met in Siemiatycze where Irma, a student at the Higher School of Commerce in Warsaw, was interning at the Regional Consumer Association in Siemiatycze and where Stanisław was active in the local community – he was President of the Associations Supervisory Board. In the beginning, the couple ran the estate together. In 1930, they leased it out when Stanisław assumed additional civil service postings: District Administrator in Kosów Poleski and, from 1934 until the outbreak of the War in 1939, Mayor of Równe. In fulfilling his duties as District Administrator in Kosów Poleski, Stanisław Wołk received a letter from the Chairman of the Jewish Community Council thanking him for favouring the Jewish community.

The Wołk couple had four children: Ewa born in 1923, Danuta in 1926, Adam in 1928 and Krzysztof in 1936. The whole family spent their 1939 holidays in Czartajew but, in the last days of August, mother and daughters returned to Równe in order to prepare, in time, for the new school year. It was thus that, at the beginning of the War, the family was separated: mother and daughters finding themselves in Wołyń, while father and sons remained in Podlasie.

Shortly after the Soviet occupation of eastern Poland, Stanisław Wołk, threatened with arrest, moved to the General Gouvernement area under German occupation, leaving his sons in the care of their mother. He found work as a land steward on the Kamy Moczulskiej estate in Frankopol on the Bug. Irma Wołkowa, with her daughters, remained in Równe until March 1940 and, returning to Czartajewa, planned crossing the Bug River with her children to her husband. The Bug at the time was the dividing river between the Soviets and the General Gouvernement. The crossing didn’t succeed. A dishonest ferryman took the payment, the delivered the entire family into the hands of Soviet border guards. After a few days, Irma and her four children were released. After a short time, Irma decided to try crossing the border again – for a start, only with her daughters, leaving her two sons with her mother. On 5th April, she successfully crossed the Bug and, after several days, she returned for her sons.

She found none of her found. On 13th April, the boys stayed in Czartajew and were arrested together with their grandmother and her disabled daughter. At the train station in Siemiatycze, whilst among the waiting people for the train wagons and deportation, they met their other grandmother, Barbara Wołkową and her daughter Konstancja. They remained together and went into exile as a six-member family. Of those six people deported in 1940 to Kazakhstan, only three returned to Poland in 1946 - Adam and Krzysztof Wołk, with their father’s sister, Konstancją Warczukowa. The rest had died in exile.

Irma Wołkowa, learning of the deportation of her sons, wanted to follow them. However, friends talked her out of this desire, assuring her that she had no chance of catching up with the transport which had left a dozen or so days earlier. Forced to give upon that plan, she crossed the Bug again, returning to her husband and daughters. They found shelter on the Kamy Moczulskiej estate in Frankopol.

Following the outbreak of the Soviet-German war and the occupation of eastern Poland by the Germans,  the land on the right side of the Bug River was encompassed into East Prussia. The Bug continued to remain the border, such that it separated the General Gouvernement from East Prussia. Czartajew found itself in Prussia, while Frankopol lay within the General Gouvernement.

It turned out that the small estate, belonging to Stanisław Wołk’s sister who had been deported to Kazakhstan and which had been taken over by a Soviet agricultural institution, was free. The Wołk family moved there. The teenage girls should have been attending junior high school, but there was no possibility of education there. Ewa, the older daughter, decided in the autumn of 1942 to set off for Warsaw to attend the Szachtmajer high school. She also looked for a home tutor for her younger sister, Danuta, whom she left at home. At the end of August 1942, Irma was contacted by Karolona Beylin, who was in hiding under the name of Maria Maliszewska. Karolina had been arrested by the Gestapo, but had managed to escape from the prisoner transport. The women met in Milanówek and, after agreeing conditions and period of work, they parted.

Following a difficult and complicated journey from Milanówek, Karolina Beylin made contact, at the appointed time, with a friend of the Wołks’ from Frankopol who was the contact point for the further stage of the journey. She reached Chorłowice by crossing to the other side of the Bug River by boat. When she reached the other bank of the river, she discovered that the Wołk’s had been deported for work to Prussia.

In desperation, Karolina took the same boat back across the Bug and, wanting to return to Milanówek, she met Kama Moczulska who, on learning of the fate of the Wołk family, found an excellent solution for Karolina. “Stay with us. My teenage niece, Mysia Żółkowska, lives nearby. You can stay with us. Mysia can come and you will be her teacher.” And that is what happened. Mysia came to Frankopola and began lessons with Maria Maliszewska.

After a time, a group of forty people returned to Siemiatycze following the end of the autumn excavations in Prussia. The Wołk family then lived in the village of Wierzchuca, where Stanisław Wołk found work on a local estate. Kama Moczulska suggested that the Wołks’ younger daughter, Danuta, come to Frankopol and become Maria Maliszewska’s pupil. And thus passed the 1942/43 school year. In the meantime, Karolinie Beylin managed to bring her sister Stefania (also using someone else’s name) and found her a position as a teacher on a friendly, neighbouring estate – Karska, where the lone famer, Teresa (from the Głogowski Mittelstead’s), had two children- Danusia and Henryk. Because of the dangers involved, the Beylin sisters could not make direct contact. Danka Wołkówna was their link, carrying the letters between them.

In the following school year, 1943/1944, after consulting with her sister Stefania and brother-in-law Roman Żółkowski from the Grodzisk estate, organised a real school in Frankopol.  Maria Maliszewska taught Mysia and Danka there. Stanisław Damrosz, former Director of a high school in Biała Podlaska, and who had been in hiding, also began working there. Two new students were brought from Grodzisk – the fifteen year old son of the Żółkowski family, Jerzy, and his contemporary, Michał Sadowski. A timetable was established with classes and breaks between lessons. The school was comprised of two teachers and four pupils, at three levels of education.

In March 1944, the whole school moved to Grodzisk and successfully operated until the end of the school year. At the end of July and beginning of August 1944, the front moved through Podlasie. After the situation stabilised, Stanisław Damrosz managed to get to Biała Podlaska and to reactivate the high school. The 1st September marked the beginning of the new school year. Karolina Beylin also went to Biała Podlaska and took up the position of English teacher at the school. She remained there until the end of the 1945/46 school year, after which she returned to Warsaw. Shortly after, together with a few other people, Karolina established the “Evening Express” (Exspress Wieczorny). For many years thereafter, she managed the cultural section of that newspaper. She wrote feature articles and theatre reviews. She was also the author of many books on 19th century Warsaw. Stefania’s interest was the history of film. She published studies on the subject and, with Jarosław Iwaszkiewicz, she translated, from the German, Andersen’s fairy tales. After the War, the Wołk family kept in constant contact with the Beylin sisters.

Irma Wołk, with her daughters, settled Biała Podlaska where Stanisław Damrosz entrusted her with running the school’s residence hall during 1945-47. Also, she taught business studies and Russian at the trade high school.

Biała Podlaska was the first Polish railway station at which, at that time, transports of Poles returning from Russia arrived. In January 1946, Stanisław Wołk, who had been arrested by the Soviets in October 1944, returned from a camp in Ostaszków. In June, his sister and two sons also returned. After moving her family to Poznań, Irma continued to teach in a trade school until 1954 when, due to her failing health, she retired.

After graduating, in 1953, from the Architecture Department of the Warsaw Polytechnic, Danuta worked in the Warsaw Urban Planning Office, and then (1958-75) in the National Councils in Płock, Sierpc and Gostynin. After being in Siedlce for twenty years, where she worked in a design construction office, she retired to Siemiatycze.

Bibliography

  • Jadwiga Rytlowa, Interview with Danuta Wolk, 1.01.2010