Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Behold and See - Part Three

The crowd was in full voice as the train slowed to a halt on the platform, singing hymns of praise to the merciful Mary, Mother of God. As soon as the locomotive has passed Hanka, she could see that there was not a spare seat in any of the carriages. Only a few people were going to Lublin to work on a Sunday morning; but this train that had come from Dęblin and Puławy was already packed with - pilgrims.

Everyone managed to board, with good grace, despite the crush. Everyone helped everybody else clamber on and settle into a little space. There were still nine more stops on the way to Lublin. At Nałęczów, a branch-line junction some way distant from the spa town, a vast throng of people lined the platform. Hanka noticed younger people here as well. And yet, no matter how many passengers wanted to board the train, somehow they all managed to squeeze in; a merry holiday atmosphere tinged with heightened expectations and some foreboding filled the overcrowded carriages.

And so the train rumbled on, Lublin was getting closer and closer, the sun was rising in the sky filling the air with warmth, though it was only five o'clock in the morning.

What would they see at the cathedral? Was it as they said it would be? Would a true miracle be theirs for the beholding? They'd all suffered so much... Hanka's carriage was full of excitement, prayer, hymn; women and men sharing sandwiches - yet wary of those whose appearance provoked suspicion - men in their thirties, too smartly dressed, hiding behind sunglasses; silent observers, who'd not mouth rosaries or join in the hymns - their type was known to all.

Hanka was well-looked after; with her group of ladies she felt secure. Her grandmother would have been a little older than them, had she still been alive... Czesławice... Miłocin... someone was counting down the stations to Lublin. They'd soon be there.

Around half past five, the train pulled into Motycz. Two more stops. The engine let out a great sigh. The passengers waited for the train to move - it didn't. After a few minutes, the more impatient folk started peering out of the windows, looking at the semaphore, which didn't budge. Rumours began circulating. "They've stopped the train! They won't let us go on to Lublin! The communists are holding us here! They'll start arresting us! Or shooting us!"

Panic took hold. Braver passengers began dismounting the train to see what was happening. A short while later, a jeep followed by two army trucks and a motorcycle and side-car pulled into the station yard. Militia-men and soldiers began dismounting. At a respectful distance, they lined up, rifles in their hands. Then, a railway man set off along the platform, shouting as loudly as he could that the train would not be going any further, any would be returning shortly to Puławy.

Cries of dismay rose along the length of the train. Some people got out, remonstrating that they lived in Lublin and were going home, and that they wanted to walk to town. They could prove it! "Here! Look at my zameldowanie!" The soldiers began advancing on the train menacingly, bayonets fixed on their rifles. Behind them, militia-men with barking Alsatians on leashes. The locomotive had by now run around the carriages and had been attached to the back of the train. It started letting off shrill whistles - it was about to depart. An officer fired his pistol into the air. The noise startled everyone. "My God! They're going to kill us all!" Many people re-boarded the train; a few brave souls remained on the platform, some praying on their knees, some lying prostrate, some shouting at the soldiers, begging them not to shoot at their mothers.

The officer drew closer. "There is no miracle. There is nothing to see. You will go back. This train will leave the station in sixty seconds time. Anyone not on board will be arrested and held as a reactionary enemy of People's Poland." He raised his arm and began looking intently at his wristwatch. Some of those on the platform reluctantly got back on the train. There was a whistle and the it departed, back the way it came.

As the train slowly pulled out, the soldiers advanced on the small group of people still left on the platform. There was much shrieking and wailing as the soldiers man-handled them towards the back of the Studebaker trucks - Made in the USA, gifts to Stalin - they lifted them up and drove them all away.

All except the little girl that had crawled under the stationary carriages and, on the other side of the train, out of sight of the soldiers, had waited hidden behind a pile of old bricks, waiting for them all to drive off.

Click here for Part Four of the story

This time six years ago:
Another return to Penrhos

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