My Journey from the Old Country to Prince ton . . . and Back


By Stanisław Maliszewski


In Loving Memory of

My Mother and Father

Janina Tatur


Władysław Maliszewski



Engagement photo of my parents, Janina Tatur and Władysław Maliszewski. Look closely and you’ll see she’s wearing a brooch with his photograph.


How does anyone get from there to here? There is a different answer for each of us. My family’s journey to the United States followed a winding road without a map, GPS, or expectations. I certainly was not born to play football, to major in philosophy, or to attend Prince ton and Harvard Business School. The road started in the Polesie region of Poland, in what is now Belarus. It is a region of large fields, marshes, and dark, deep forests once inhabited by fiercely patriotic Poles.

My parents,Władysław Maliszewski and Janina Tatur, were both from old Polish szlachta families. My mother’s roots were especially deep. Her father, Władysław Tatur, and her mother, Stefania Kisielewska, could trace their lines back to 1450 and 1250, respectively. The Taturs had lived on their land, called Zastaria, for centuries. After Poland’s partition in the late 18th century, the country was wiped off the map, and Zastaria became part of Imperial Russia. Following World War I, when Poland re-emerged as a nation, Zastaria wound up in Belarus, a part of the Soviet Union, although close to the Polish border. Despite their nominal status as Belarusians, the Taturs (then and now) never thought of themselves as anything but Poles.

My family suffered terribly in the Bolshevik purges. My grandfather Władysław Tatur was arrested in 1931 and given a five-year sentence at hard labor, working in a gulag on the Murmansk Canal. Soon after his release he was rearrested, and this time executed — a victim of the Great Purge of 1937, when Stalin killed an estimated one million Poles living in the Soviet Union. All four of his brothers and all his male cousins were also executed. In total, 70 Taturs living in and around Zastaria perished at the hands of the Bolsheviks. My mother was 12 years old the first time they came at night to seize her father, and 18 when they took him away again. Five years later they killed her brother Roman, who was just 20. Roman Tatur was the uncle I never knew. My son is named for him.

The Taturs were accused of being “counter-revolutionaries” and “kulaks.” A kulak was a so-called rich farmer. He could own a pig and be denounced by a neighbor who had no pig. Both of these terms were used as an excuse to arrest anyone — no particular proof was necessary. My mother was convinced that Stalin executed so many Poles because he knew they would fight against the Soviets in the war he saw coming.

It was not enough to execute the Tatur men. Stalin had all their houses, barns, shops, and other buildings razed, removing even the foundations. The surviving women and children were than forced to move into log cabins in Repische, a new collective farm village built on the property. Stalin had made certain there was nothing left for them to go home to. In 1941, when the Germans invaded the Soviet Union, they scouted the area. They knew of Zasteria as a name on the map but couldn’t locate it on the ground. When they approached the villagers in Repische and asked, “Where is Zastaria?,” they were told, “It is no more.”

When German troops first entered the western Soviet Union they were greeted as liberators. It’s not that the inhabitants of Belarus and Ukraine liked the Germans, but having endured Stalin’s purges and the famines resulting from forced collectivisation, they hated the Bolsheviks. Later, they wondered about the Western powers’ alliance with Stalin in the fight against Hitler. As they often said, “You don’t bring in the wolf to get rid of the mad dog.”

Following their marriage in 1938, my parents moved to Swislaczo, a village a few miles west of Repische, at the junction of the Swislacz and Berezina rivers. (During his retreat from Moscow, Napoleon was defeated on the banks of the Berezina.) They built a house outside of town, close to the glass factory where my father worked. Their first child, my brother Leonard, was born there in 1939.

Five years later, when the area was occupied by Germans and she was pregnant with me, my mother was shot in the leg while fleeing Bolshevik partisans. The wound was serious but my mother recovered after some time in a hospital. When she was running her lower leg was horizontal, on a plane similar to the bullet’s trajectory. The bullet entered just below the calf muscle, spiraled around the bones, and exited below the knee. The scars were much larger than the bullet because of the angle of entry and exit. (As kids my brothers and I were fascinated by these wounds.)

Shortly after this incident, to be closer to family, my parents and brother moved into the cabin of my paternal grandparents in Swislaczo. I was born in that cabin, on the banks of the Swislacz River, in August 1944.

By now it was late in the war. The Germans continued to round up Poles for forced labor in Germany. My grandparents Jan and Stanisława Maliszewski had already left, and my parents and other members of the family soon followed. Staying put wasn’t an option. The Red Army, notorious for raping and killing civilians in its path, was pressing from the east. And after what the Bolsheviks had done to her family, my mother saw “escape” to Germany as the lesser evil: Better the unknown dangers facing them there than the known terrors of Soviet rule.