“In one suitcase” – Fragments of the interview with Róża hr. Siemieńska, of the family name hr. Plater – Zyberk.
Before the First World War the Plater family had huge mansions in Livonia, but in 1918 they had to leave them when the land they sat on was incorporated into the newly created Latvia. Having been given compensation from the Latvian government, they moved to Poland, where my father, Edward Plater-Zyberk, bought a small estate called Pilica, picturesquely located by the river Pilica. He moved in there with my mother, Irena from the Livonian Romer family.
We led a healthy, village life and were brought up to observe a few golden rules: to sit nicely at the table, to be polite to people, to respect the home staff and not to complain. It was a true regime but we never rebelled against it since we were so used to rules from an early age that we considered them natural. Many aristocratic families brought up their children strictly, which was beneficial during wartime, in communism and in exile.
We celebrated religious events solemnly, but Christmas was the most important for me. We used to spend it by a big, candle-lit tree decorated with homemade decorations, made by my siblings and myself throughout Advent. My sisters and I were dressed in white dresses with big sashes, and after Christmas Eve we received gifts. My favourite was a saddle given by my godmother. I was absolutely crazy about horses. So was my husband, Wilek (Wilhelm hr. Siemieński-Lewiscki). I learnt how to ride a horse bareback first, and even when I started to use a saddle, I preferred to ride without, as I felt the horse better. I had my favourite mare, bought in a nearby estate, for many long years. She was very mild, and named Madelon.
Usually, teenage daughters from estates were taught in boarding schools. When a lady turned 18 and passed the Matura Exam, she was allowed to attend balls, but always in company. I can clearly remember my first ball, organised by an American ambassador, Beadel, for his daughter. Aristocracy was very family-orientated, we all knew one another, we attended family weddings. As one of eight bridesmaids, I took part in the glamorous wedding of my cousin, Jan Plater-Zyberka from Wojcieszkowo and Róża Czetwertyńska from Żołudek. Other events, to which we used to invite teenagers, took place in Pilica. Our children do not have fun as we used to! They stand and talk, and we used to dance until the bitter end, and at two in the morning we used to swim in the river, even on 24 March, on the name day of my brother, Kazio. The water was extremely cold then! To the music played on a gramophone we danced foxtrots, polkas, obereks, sambas, The Boston Waltz and By The Beautiful, Cerulean Danube. We sang love songs in French, war and folk songs in Polish.
This delightful life ended on 1 September 1939. Under the German annexation landowners were allowed to live within their estates. Then in 1944, when we found ourselves on the Soviet-German front, the Germans over-ran the whole of our house. After the war, former Home Army officers, landowners and aristocrats were being harassed. My husband got arrested, and when he was set free, we decided to escape from Poland.
We liked Canada straightaway. I received a lot of warm and kindness from Canadians, although sometimes I could hear them complain that emigrant were stealing their jobs. I love Poland and I will always feel Polish. I watch Polish TV, and even though I do not support some political views, I follow all the events with curiosity. I keep in touch with all the family members living in the country, and two of my grandchildren have settled in Poland.