My mother,Grażyna Łomnicka, never spoke about the war or Siberia at all until one day her doctor persuaded her to tell him why she wouldn’t let her throat be examined. She had had problems for years with swallowing and absolutely refused to have anything done about it. One Sunday, however, she came to lunch as usual, and quietly announced: “I’ve told my doctor. Now I can tell you: when the soviets came in the middle of the night, April 1940, to take us away my mother had hysterics. She screamed and cried and said she wouldn’t go. The guards or soldiers or whoever they were tried to persuade her to pack and started finding boxes and cases for her. Still she did not stop. Finally, totally exasperated, the soldier grabbed me by the neck and told my mother that he would strangle me if she didn’t stop her screaming.” This apparently brought my grandmother to her senses and she packed masses of embroidered nightdresses, amongst other things. These were to stand her in good stead in the village in Kazakhstan where she my mother(10)and aunt(3) were sent. She was able to sell them as wedding gowns to the village girls as they had never seen such silks before.
The other way my babcia survived was by cupping (stawianie bańki ) children who were ill, until one day one child nearly didn’t survive. Babcia thought she would be lynched by the elders of the community lynched, but eventually the little patient pulled through.
She also contributed to the family coffers ( or at least to have enough to buy mahorca ) by reading tarot cards. This used to infuriate my mother because she still carried on when she eventually reached safety and London. She used to do it in secret on our flat in West Kensington.. They would pore over the card table smoking Woodbines and drinking lemon tea, pleasantly ignoring me till their session was over. I’d be sent to another room and made to promise not to tell my mother that Babcia had had “friends” round in the afternoon.
I became quite an adept little keeper of secrets as a very small child!