The Story of Jan Kuta – My Grandfather

The Story of Jan Kuta

John Kuta

My Grandfather, Jan Kuta was one of those people that lived on the edge and survived more then most of us ever could. I never knew my Grandfather, he died just a few months before I was born. I would have been his first Grandson and like my sister before me I imagine he would have been a Godsend to us. Everyone that talks of him, always do with admiration and love, he was a “Nice” man and respected by everyone that knew him.

ukraine
The Region of Ukraine that once was the Eastern Province of Poland.

 

Jan Kuta was born on the 18th January 1924, in Katarynice, Lviv, Poland. He was one of four known children of a Roman Catholic family and the son of Michal and Katarzyna Kuta. (His English name is “John”, his parents “Michael” and “Katherine”) Jan was born during a time of difficulty right at the beginning of the second polish republic. A time of interwar which started with the recreation of independent Poland (1918) and ended with the occupation of Poland by Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union at the onset of the Second World War. During the second polish republic, Poland was often chaotic and for some an unsafe place to be. Jan’s family especially lived in a region of Poland which boarded with Ukraine, a piece of land disputed and fought over by more then one country for over two hundred years. For example between the years 1917 – 1919, The village of Katarynice found itself on the subordinate Zachodnioukrainskiej’s, Republic of China. Before that, Galicia and Austria. All I can guess is that for peoples of this region any sense of identity and person was difficult to grasp. I can see now why our Kuta family held onto it’s religion, it was the only sense of purpose in an already difficult world. It’s not an easy task to explain the conflicts of this time and in doing so gather a sense of Jan‘s childhood, most or probably all of Poland’s issues anyway were political. It’s such a shame it affected the lives of so many. By the time Jan Kuta reached the age of 15 years, 1st of September 1939 The Third Reich invaded Poland, with the Soviet Union launching it’s own invasion of Poland’s Eastern provinces. WW2 had begun and for the next six years life for Jan and his family was going to be in turmoil. I don’t know any of the facts, or the stories that affected the life of my family at this time. I only know one thing. On the 5th October 1942, The Third Reich initiated a program to deport Poles and to enslave them in Nazi Germany. My Grandfather, at the age of 17 was one of those people. So probably were his sisters, his parents and many more of his family members. It was a grotesque picture, with millions of labourers being recruited against their will within the occupied Eastern Territories. For those that fled, their houses were burned and villages set afire. Parents found themselves under arrest until their children appeared, for those that didn’t were shot. For those that were brave and did appear we can only imagine what futures await them. Imprisoned workers found themselves locked away in closed school houses, whilst awaiting deportation they were not even being allowed to go outside to perform the basic functions. They have to do it like pigs in the same room. A room full of able-bodied beings, the lame, the old and the blind. In total 911,000 Poles were put to work for the German War Effort, the second highest after the Russian provinces. Sick and infirm citizens of the occupied countries were taken indiscriminately with the rest, those who managed to survive the travel into Germany but were to sick to work, were returned like cattle. Many people died, and their bodies tossed by the roadside with no plan of decent burial. Stories are even recorded of mothers in child birth sharing cars with those infected with Tuberculosis and venereal diseases, babies when born were hurled out of windows and dying persons lay on bare floors without even the smallest comfort of straw. The Nazi conspirators were not satisfied to tear 5,000,000 persons from their families, their homes, and their country. They insisted that these 5,000,000 wretches, while being deported to Germany or after their arrival, be degraded, beaten, and permitted to die for want of food, clothing, and adequate shelter. One statement read: “All men must be fed, sheltered and treated in such a way as to exploit them to the highest possible extent at the lowest conceivable degree of expenditure”. Factories consisting of slave labourers had high expectations of it’s workers, “slackers” were without hesitation sent to concentration camps. This knowledge alone was enough to frighten most. Workers were generally forced to work long hours up to and beyond the point of exhaustion. They were beaten and subjected to inhumane indignities. An example of this treatment is found in the conditions which prevailed in the Krupp factories. Foreign labourers at the Krupp factories were given insufficient food to enable them to perform the work required of them. The diet prescribed for Eastern Workers was altogether insufficient, they were given 1,000 calories a day less then the minimum prescribed for any German. Moreover, while German workers engaged in the heaviest work received 5,000 calories a day, the eastern workers in comparable jobs received only 2,000 calories. The eastern workers were given only two meals a day and their bread ration. One of these two meals consisted of a thin, watery soup. Even after their day had ended, the misery of their lives continued. Living conditions varied depending on where you were working, some houses consisted of the ruins of former barracks and they afforded no shelter against rain and other weather conditions. Particular harsh and brutal treatment was reserved for workers imported from the conquered eastern territories. They lived in bondage, were quartered in stables with animals, and were denied the right to worship and the pleasures of human society. These workers were likewise afflicted with spotted fever. Lice the carrier of this disease, together with countless fleas, bugs and other vermin. As a result of the filthy conditions of the camps nearly all eastern workers were afflicted with skin disease. It was a general rule that all workers were compelled to work unless a camp doctor had prescribed that they were unfit to work. It was usual for a Doctor to appear only once every two – three days. As a consequence, workers were forced to go to work despite illness. All workers wore badges, “P” for poles, “East” for the Eastern Territories. Punishment was usually received for those workers not wearing a badge, or those refusing to do so.

Polish badge - Forced Labour

The Third Reich had a lot of rules, in order to govern their imported slave workers – some of these are as follows: 1. Fundamentally, farm workers of Polish nationality no longer have the right to complain, and thus no complaints may be accepted any more by any official agency. 2. The farm workers of Polish nationality may not leave the localities in which they are employed, and have a curfew from 1 October to 31 March from 2000 hours to 0600 hours, and from 1 April to 30 September from 2100 hours to 0500 hours. 3. The use of bicycles is strictly prohibited. Exceptions are possible for riding to the place of work in the field if a relative of the employer or the employer himself is present. 4. The visit of churches, regardless of faith, is strictly prohibited, even when there is no service in progress. Individual spiritual care by clergymen outside of the church is permitted. 5. Visits to theatres, motion pictures or other cultural entertainment are strictly prohibited for farm workers of Polish nationality. 6. Sexual intercourse with women and girls is strictly prohibited, and where it is established, it must be reported. The above list is just a small example of the rules implied. Factories and Camps were all given the right to decide on working conditions, hours of work and punishment. Death by hanging was used frequently. On the 13 June 1944 a Josef Kuta, died by hanging in block 14 of the Natzweiler-Struthof Concentration Camp, France. He is the only Kuta, I have found so far who died as a result of slave labour, I am sure he isn’t the only one, I’m sure there are many, many more. At the end of World War Two, and after the eventual release of slave labourers and prisoners of concentration camps, all survivors began the long process towards recovery. For many the ordeal wasn’t over, people lost loved ones, families were parted, people were missing and for Jan Kuta and his family they found that their return home was met with comparative hostility. They were being deported from their home land. Before World War Two , there were hundreds of thousands of Poles living in current territory of Ukraine. In the Ukrainian SSR east of the Zbruch river, in 1926 there were 476.435 Poles, which was 1.6% of total population of Soviet Ukraine. In current western Ukraine, which was then part of the Second Polish Republic the population of Poles ranged from 17% in the Wolyn Voivodeship (1921 – 1939) to 58% in the Lwow Voivodeship Altogether, Poles in these lands made around 35% of total population. Massacres of Poles in Volhynia The Massacres of Poles in Volhynia (Polish: Rzez wolynska, literally: Volhynian slaughter; was an ethnic cleansing operation in Volhynia and its environs (now in western Ukraine) that took place mainly between late March 1943 and August 1947 during and after World War Two. The term “slaughter” was first used to describe the ethnic cleansing operations by Edward Prus in 1985 in his book “Heroes under the sign of the Trident”. The actions, orchestrated and conducted in most part by the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA) together with other Ukrainian groups and local Ukrainian peasants, resulted in over 60,000 Polish Civilians, being brutally murdered in Wolyn Voivodeship alone, out of six voivodeships affected. The peak of the massacres took place in July and August 1943 when a senior UPA commander, ordered the extermination of the entire Polish population between 16 and 60 years of age. This act was to purge all Non-Ukrainians from the future Ukrainian State.

Massacre of Poles in 1943 - Ukraine
Massacre of the Poles in 1943
July 11, 1943, is regarded as one of the bloodiest days of the massacres, with many reports of UPA
units marching from village to village, killing Polish civilians. On that day, UPA units surrounded and
attacked Polish villages and settlements located in three counties The events began at 3:00am, with the
Poles having no chance to escape. After the massacres, the Polish villages were burned to the ground.
According to those few who survived, the action had been carefully prepared; a few days before the
massacres there had been several meetings in Ukrainian villages, during which UPA members told the
villagers that the slaughter of all Poles was necessary. Within a few days an unspecified number of
Polish villages were completely destroyed and their populations murdered. In the Polish village of
Gurow, out of 480 inhabitants, only 70 survived; in the settlement of Orzeszyn, the UPA killed 306 out
of 340 Poles; in the village of Sadowa out of 600 Polish inhabitants only 20 survived; in Zagaje out of
350 Poles only a few survived. In August 1943, the Polish village of Gaj (near Kovel) was burned and
some 600 people massacred. In September in the village of Wola Ostrowiecka 529 people were killed,
including 220 children under 14, and 438 people were killed, including 246 children, in Ostrowki. In
September 1992 exhumations were carried out in these villages, confirming the number of dead.
The atrocities were perpetrated with utmost cruelty. The victims, regardless of their age or gender,
were routinely tortured to death. Norman Davies in No Simple Victory gives a short, but shocking
description of the massacres. He writes: “Villages were torched. Roman Catholic priests were axed or
crucified. Churches were burned with all their parishioners. Isolated farms were attacked by gangs
carrying pitchforks and kitchen knives. Throats were cut. Pregnant women were bayoneted. Children
were cut in two. Men were ambushed in the field and led away. The perpetrators could not determine
the province’s future. But at least they could determine that it would be a future without Poles.
“Timothy Snyder” describes the murders in the following way: “Ukrainian partisans burned homes,
shot or forced back inside those who tried to flee, and used sickles and pitchforks to kill those they
captured outside. In some cases, beheaded, crucified, dismembered, or disembowelled bodies were
displayed, in order to encourage remaining Poles to flee”. Similar account has been presented by Niall
Ferguson, who wrote: Whole villages were wiped out, men beaten to death, women raped and
mutilated, babies bayoneted.
Whether or not I lost family during this massacre is unsure. One thing remains certain. My family left
their homeland, upon the Eastern regions of Poland and of Western Ukraine and never returned.
In about 1945, those of my family that survived the Nazi Labour Factories and the massacre of poles of
Western Ukraine arrived in Bethune, France to begin a new life.
I am unsure how long my Grandfather Jan Kuta, lived in France, it was probably only a couple of
years. Because he decided to move to England in search of a close relative that meant a lot to him.
Sadly Jan never found him. Instead, whilst working in the building trade around the Waltham area of
Essex he came across my Grandmother. Rosie May Janes.
I don’t know the story of how they met, all I know is that they spent the rest of their lives together.
John Kuta’ as he is known here in England continued a career as a builder. A man part responsible for
the building of many new estates in Maldon, Essex where they both lived at number 44 Fitches
Crescent.
Between them they had four children, “John, Michael, Stephanie and Stephen” although the couple
remained un-married, they lived relatively happy lives.
John was a keen fisherman, and through him this passion past onto all of his son’s and a few of his
grandchildren.
He rode his bicycle “everywhere”, he was respected and loved by those who knew him. I have never
heard of a bad word said against him.
Although he now lived in a different country, he remained in touch with all his family in France and a
sister he left behind in Poland.
John could speak five different languages, “Polish, Ukrainian, German, French and English. It’s no
guessing why really, because for much of his life he was a part of all these places.
John never spoke of what happened in Germany, in Poland upon the borders of Ukraine. All I can
guess is that the memory he had, was to heart breaking to remember.
John was taken from us on the 23 February 1878, at 44 Fitches Crescent, Maldon. He past away
suddenly through Cardiac Arrest and Ischaemic Heart Disease, he was 54 years old.
No age really, and a great loss to the family he left behind.
John’s ashes were laid to rest at London Road, Cemetery, Maldon where a memorial still remains
today. A small reminder of brave, amazing man.

John Kuta - February 1978

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3 thoughts on “The Story of Jan Kuta – My Grandfather

  1. Thanks for sending me the link to this. I never knew about the massacre of Poles or the abuse they suffered at the hands of the Nazis. As a Jew, I am well aware of the atrocities committed by the Nazis against Jews, gypsies, gay and lesbian people, but never knew about this particular chapter of their evilness.

    • It is such a shame what so many people went through, and so often we see history like this played out again and again.
      My grandfather never really spoke about this time in his life and kept a lot of his history to himself.
      Hopefully one day I will discover much more about his life.
      kindest regards, good luck with your research and chat soon.

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