31 July 2015
Translated from Polish by J.Hawk
The Catholic cemetery in the Ukrainian town of Berezne no longer exists. Bulldozers razed the gravestones making room for the city park. But when the Hermaszewski family visits that spot, they always place candles on the ground. This is the final resting place of Roman, the father of General Mirosław Hermaszewski. The Hermaszewski’s are a large, brave, patriotic family.
Mirosław’s grandfather, Sylwester Hermaszewski (family crest Zaremba) worked at his friend’s. He had 16 children, 11 of whom reached adulthood. To raise and educate them, in 1910 they bought a few dozen hectares of land in Police, near Lipnik, where they uprooted the forest and sowed the land. There were 60 Polish families in Lipnik, and altogether there were 459 Poles in the area, including in the nearby villages. Huge families. Hajdamowicz, Kulikowski, Kunicki, Murawski, Bielawski, Hermaszewski families.
In 1925 Roman Hermaszewski married Kamila Bielawska, and soon their children started coming into the world: Alina, Władek, Sabina, Anna, Teresa, Bogusław, Mirosław. The youngest son was born in 1941 in terrible times. During the German occupation the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA) units felt pretty confident. They killed Poles with impunity.
In March 1943 the Hermaszewski family moved to Lipnik out of fear. They lived at a friend’s house with the grandparents and children of an aunt who was deported to Siberia. Around midnight of 25 March they were awoken by the first shots. Incendiary tracer bullets were setting house roofs on fire, heavy machine gun fire bursts were cutting through the air. Roman Hermaszewski ordered his children to run to the pond. Each grabbed a small bundle, the mother carried the 18 month old Mirosław. The fires burned so brightly it was like daylight.
Then the Ukrainians attacked. They came with pitchforks, knives, axes. They yelled “death to the Poles” and killed everyone. The Poles ran along a drainage ditch toward the village of Zurne. Banderites were firing at the fleeing crowd. A Ukrainian caught up with Kamila who carried her son. He shot her in the head and thought he killed her because she fell. She came to several hours later and started running again. When she realized she wasn’t holding her child she started to despair.
When the day came Roman and his son Wladek went in the direction of Lipnik. In the snow, on a small rise near a bush I saw my father’s jacket and in it there was our Mirek, wrapped in a blanket and not showing any signs of life–Władek recalled many years later. They were horrified by the possibility the child froze. The father held his son against his breast and that’s how they went back to the village. There were hundreds of dead along the ditch and in the backyards. Aunt Adela Hermaszewska sat under a bloodied feather blanket, terrified out of her mind, and held three children who were murdered before her eyes.
Grandfather Sylwester’s body lay by the poplar. He didn’t run away because he did not believe any of his Ukrainian friends would kill him.
“Grandfather called Ukrainians ‘brothers.’ He paid for that by being stabbed seven times in the chest with a bayonet,” Mirosław Hermaszewski says. While they were weeping over grandfather’s body, the father suddenly felt that Mirek moved. Overcome by emotion, he whispered “You are the youngest, you must live!”
“The Banderites burned down everything, the whole village. We moved to Berezne over Sluch River,” Mirosław says. Only one of their cows survived and soon they were starving. Father went briefly to Lipnik. He mowed the wheat on his so that they would have at least a few sheafs. Then shots were fired from hiding, he was hit in the chest. “We know who fired, we know the name. It was a Ukrainian,” Mirosław Hermaszewski says.
They took the father to the hospital in Berezne. Mirek cried because father could not pick him up. Roman died shortly afterwards. He’s buried in a cemetery that no longer exists. Kamila and the children took shelter at a church in Berezne, then escaped to Kostopol.
The Red Army entered the city shortly after the 1944 New Year. After the war they settled in Silesia, in Wolow. Kamila Hermaszewska raised and educated her children there. She was brave, industrious, and caring.
“She was completely dedicated to us,” Mirosław reminisces. Her three sons became pilots. The youngest flew into space in 1978 from the Baikonur Cosmodrome.