The Lipinsky Memoir
By Bryan Caplan
Lipinsky was deported from Poland to Siberia by the Soviets when he was 15 years old. Last year, he told me his tale of woe and survival over lunch. I almost wept tears of joy when he came to the end of the story, and revealed that by some miracle, all his siblings survived.
And he can write. Here’s a few excerpts:
Your mother was deported with her mother and brother to Siberia in April 1940. Her stepfather had to seek refuge from Russians in Latvia, where he was arrested in 1941, when Soviet Union occupied that country. They were reunited in Siberia after we got an amnesty from Russians. As a child she already faced problems of life that would be beyond your imagination: hunger, abandonment (her mother had to stay away from her children at the place of work) living alone with her brother who was only 1½ year older than her, among Russians. She told me that once when she was returning to her village after visiting her mother, she had to go through the river Irtish which was frozen at that time. Her mother was watching her from the river bank and to her horror she saw a lonely wolf following Iza at a distance. Iza was completely unaware of the wolf. Iza’s mother heart froze from terror but she did not scream in fear that Iza could start running and that would excite the wolf. Fortunately, apparently the wolf was not hungry and did not attack Iza.
One soldier said that he saw Lt. Lipinski [Wladek Lipinsky, Romuald’s older brother], who was heavily wounded, dying and was calling others to kill him because he could not stand the pain any longer. Of course everybody in our family was very upset and we had Wladek for dead. So when the railroad man reported that Wladek was alive and well we were all stirred up. We were all happy to know that he is alive, but there was a concern how to get him out of there. It was about 2:00 AM. We knew that the Russians are taking our soldiers, specially officers, to prison camps in Siberia. At that time we did not know what fate was awaiting them (the mass graves in Katyn forests were discovered in 1943), but we knew that they are not going to have a good time there. My father and Janka, took quickly some food, warm clothing and went to the Central Station to give Wladek at least something for his long journey to Russia. When they arrived there, they found out that the railroad men went to the Russian Officer‑in‑Charge of the Station and pleaded with him that because my father was so good to the working class, railroad employees etc., to release his son, Wladek, out to freedom. When my father asked the Russian to allow him to see his son who is a prisoner of war the Russian answered: “Because you supported the working people I will free your son”. My father didn’t believe his ears… They quickly took Wladek with him home. There was a lot of crying (of joy of course) kissing and embracing. We welcomed him as if he was coming from the grave.
We packed our belongings on the truck and they took us to Brzesc Central, where on the side tracks were awaiting freight cars. There was a long freight train ready, the box cars with iron bars in the windows, and people were being brought from all over the area. Most of them were from Brzesc proper but there were also from the neighboring villages. This I could never understood: the Russians came “to free the peasants from the yoke of the Polish landlords” and yet, many of poor peasants were deported with us to Siberia. Sometimes you could see the whole families, old people, small children, etc., being arrested and deported. In our box car there was a grandfather, age 72, and two of his grandchildren 5 and 7. These two lovely children were the center of attention of the entire car. What crimes against Soviet Union did they commit in their short lives is beyond me. But this was an example of the Soviet justice.
During the night of 21‑22 of June 1940 we heard the train moving. We realized that it was the departure time. All of the sudden it became very quiet in the car and then somebody started to sing “Nie rzucim ziemi skad nasz ród” (“We won’t forfeit the land of our roots”). Some women started to cry.
I don’t think that at that time I realized the seriousness of the situation and the dramatic consequences of this moment for the rest of my life. It was somehow inconceivable to me that I will leave Poland forever. I envisioned myself returning to my native land as a grownup perhaps, after many years, to find everything the way it was when I was a boy. Just as I read in many of the historical books that I liked so much. I modeled myself right away as one of the characters from my books ‑ a pilgrim coming back to his country from far away lands after many years of absence. Years have shown that these youthful visions were only in my imagination.
I’m always impressed by people who have tasted the worst of life but retain a sunny disposition. I’m even more impressed, though, by people like Lipinsky who have tasted the worst of life, retain a sunny disposition, and yet remain eager to tell our happier world the true story of the dark days they survived. If you live around DC, invite him to lunch – you won’t regret it.