The Biography of Katarzyna Dańko

Kasia Tropiło sent me the following biography of her great great grandmother, Katarzyna Dańko. We think that Katarzyna Dańko may be my first cousin, three times removed.

Katarzyna Dańko was born on the 10th of March 1879 in Nienadowa, Galicia (now Poland) in house number 215. The midwife was Marianna Klimczyk. She was baptized on the following day, March 11th, by the Reverend Karakulski from the Dubiecko parish.  She was part of a large family; she had eleven sisters and one brother. There isn’t any information about Katarzyna’s sisters.

A family story relates that Katarzyna’s brother was extremely strong, but also very calm. His calmness was frequently a subject of the ridicule of his friends. Once, when his friends’ jokes became hard to tolerate, he lifted one of his opponents over his head and threw him behind a fence, finishing all the rude jokes forever. Supposedly, he also fought a bear, the property of Gypsies passing by the village with their camp. He had two sons: Henryk and another one whose name is unknown, who most probably was a member of the crew of a plane shot down in Italy during World War II.

On the 9th of February 1898, shortly before her nineteenth birthday, Katarzyna married Jan Tropiło. They maintained quite a large farm in Packowice near Nizankowice (both now located in Ukraine). When they moved to Packowice is unknown. They didn’t have a child for six years, which may indicate they had problems conceiving and may explain why they had only one son, a fairly uncommon circumstance at the time. Their son Franciszek was born in 1904.

Many years later (10-15) someone abandoned a baby, a little girl, in front of their house. They adopted the baby and raised her as their own child. The girl was named Marysia.

It is known that Katarzyna was a quack veterinarian. According to family legends, she had some supernatural abilities and from that she was thought to be a witch. After her husband died, she lived at the edge of the village and the villagers passing her house with their carts were so scared, that they rushed their horses past her house “just in case”. Franciszek Tropiło told his son about a time when he and his mother were going to church. They were late, and in front of the church stood a large group of people, all with their backs to them. They were still quite far from the group when Katarzyna whispered to her son, “Look, now they will all turn around and look at us”. In the same moment, everyone turned around to look at Katarzyna and Franciszek.

After her husband died in 1931, Katarzyna ran the farm on her own. There exists a list of farm implements and livestock dated the 9th of February 1940. The area of the farm was 13  mórgs (1 mórg = 1.422 acres).

According to this list, the farm included:
- 2 cows
- 2 heifers
- 1 calf
- 1 horse (2 years old)
- 30 hens
- 3 geese
- 3 ducks
- 2 pigs (6 months old)
- 2 carts
- 1 iron harrow
- 3 horse collars
- 1 decimal scale
- 20 stacks of rye
- 20 stacks of wheat
- 15 stacks of oats
- 15 stack of  barley
- 1 quintal of corn (1 quintal = 100 kg)
- 1 quintal of beans
- 80 quintals of potatoes
- 14 quintals of beets
- 1 plow
- 6 containers for cereal (each able to hold 4 quintals)
- 2 wooden beds
- 1 new iron bed
- 1 bambitel (we’re not sure what this is; it may be some kind of furniture)
- 2 wardrobes
- 1 cupboard for dishes
- others items such as forks, sacks, axes etc.
- religious paintings

The list indicates that Katarzyna’s farm was prosperous.

The Red Army and World War II reached Packowice on the 17th of September 1939. In February 1940, the first transports left Poland carrying exiles for Siberia. Katarzyna and Marysia didn’t avoid that destiny. The reason their family appeared on the list of deportees is not known. Because of the large number of people arrested, the Russian occupiers didn’t even attempt a pretense of legal action.  In czarist times there existed a procedure of “exile in administrative mode”, mostly used against the land owners. Perhaps, at this time, owning a prosperous farm was a sufficient reason to be taken away.

Soviet soldiers entered the house in Packowice and found Katarzyna ill and lying in bed. It’s hard to say why, but the soldiers suspected that Katarzyna was lying down in order to hide a weapon under her quilt. They told her to stand up. She did so with difficulty, but it was enough for the soldiers to say that Katarzyna could be taken away. She and her adopted daughter collected some of their belongings and Katarzyna began her last, tragic journey.

The journey was lengthy, and Katarzyna and Marysia ended up in Omska Oblast. It is estimated that about 108 thousand people from eastern Poland were arrested and sent to the Gulag. Next, 320 thousand people were deported to the villages in the far north of Russia and Kazakhstan. That last number included the tragedy of Katarzyna and Marysia.

It is unknown how the Soviets decided who would just be deported and who would be sent to the Gulag. Deportations were used as punishments, but were also a part of a plan to settle the northern regions of Russia. Deported people suffered at least as much as those who were sent to the Gulag. Those sent to the Gulag had a place to sleep and a daily portion of bread, but the people deported to north Russia didn’t even have that. They were left on their own.

In the adverse conditions of Siberia, an inhospitable climate and a strange landscape, Katarzyna, exhausted, lost her mind. She had run into the taiga from which she never returned alive. In those times, people were buried under only a thin layer of earth.  In order to bury her mother in a casket , Marysia had to sell one of the greatest  treasures someone could have there – an eiderdown quilt.

Marysia survived the deportation. She, like many Polish people, became a soldier in the Tadeusz Kosciuszko First Division and she managed to return to Poland. After the War she was married. For reasons unknown, her husband took her last name. In that way, more Tropiłos appeared in the phone book even though they weren’t related to the other Tropiłos by blood.

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4 Responses to The Biography of Katarzyna Dańko

  1. Miriam says:

    What an intriguing and tragic story! It is amazing that Katarzyna’s story survived, and probably only did so because her daughter eventually returned to Poland. I am sure there were thousands of Polish deportees to Russia whose biographies, if written, would simply end with a statement that they were deported to the Gulag or North Russia, with no one ever knowing what happened to them.

  2. Hi Miriam,

    It is, indeed, amazing that Katarzyna’s story survived. This biography says that “It is estimated that about 108 thousand people from eastern Poland were arrested and sent to the Gulag. Next, 320 thousand people were deported to the villages in the far north of Russia and Kazakhstan.”

    Other sources tell us that 1.6-1.7 million Polish citizens found themselves in Soviet Russia during World War II. Only 500,000 survived.

    I also have a copy of the biography of Wiktor Dziurzyński, to whom I may be related through my paternal grandmother. Wiktor was arrested and assassinated by the NKVD during World War II. His family was also deported, but they survived to tell the tale.

    During and after World War II, the story of the Polish deportees was quietly suppressed and most Americans have never heard about these events called the “Forgotten Odyssey”.

    Steve

  3. Apple says:

    Such a sad story. My knowledge of WWII history is sadly lacking.

  4. Janice Brown says:

    Steve,

    How carefully Kasia documented her family story! Considering the odds against them, it is remarkable that any of that family survived. Thank you for sharing that with us, and for making us pause, even if for a moment, to acknowledge the families lost to us.

    Janice

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