for one man,
and for one little boy
- by Alice Marie Beard
Much of Dyonizy Ivanowicz' life was
determined by having been born on a strip of land that
was contested for generations.
He was born in 1914 in a small village called
"Dubatovka" which was near the larger village
of "Morozovichi." (The name
"Dubatovka" means something like "place of
the oaks," and the name was used for more than one
small village.) In Morozovichi, there was an Orthodox
church that is listed in records at the National
Historical Archive of Belarus as "Morozovichskaya
Rozhdestvo Bogoroditskaya Church" of the Novogrydok
district. The village of Morozovichi is northwest of the
city of Baranavichy (population 173,000 in the year 1995) and
southwest of the city of Novogrudok (population 30,800 in the year 2004).
Approximate latitude and longitude of the village of
Morozovichi are 53° 32' north, and 25°
The village of Morozovichi was in the volost
of Koshelevskaya. A volost was a small
administrative area in Eastern Europe similar to what in
the United States in 2010 is known as a township. A
volost was part of a larger administrative unit called an
uyezd; the uyezd that the volost of
Koshelevskaya was part of was the uyezd of
Novogrudok (not to be confused with the city of
Novogrudok which itself was part of the uyezd of
Novogrudok). The uyezd of Novogrudok had (at least ) 23
volosts. An uyezd was part of a guberniya, a
large regional area or governorate; the uyezd of
Novogrudok was part of the guberniya of Minsk.
The uyezd of Novogrudok was one of nine uyezds in the
guberniya of Minsk. This system of villages > volosts
> uyezds > guberniya existed from 1843 until 1918.
(By 2010, the area is part of the oblast or voblast
of Hrodna, and Grodno is the administrative center of
Hrodna. Hrodna is one of six oblasts in Belarus.)
When Dyonizy was born in 1914, that area was a part of
czarist Russia. His father, Ivan, was taken from the
family in 1918 as a result of the Russian Revolution of
1917. Because his father had worked for the White Russian
Army, the Soviets sent his father to Siberia.
Before 1920, when Dyonizy would have been six years old,
his mother moved the family to Pinsk (population
130,000 in the year 1999). In 1920, Pinsk became part of
Poland as a result of the Polish-Soviet War.
Dyonizy's mother had seven children and no support.
Dyonizy begged for food from soldiers on the streets and
was prevented from having any schooling because there
were no public schools and his mother had no money to pay
the school master. As a consequence, Dyonizy was
In 1936, he joined the Polish Army for two years. In 1939
he rejoined because of the threat of war to his country.
His army unit was stationed in western Poland. The
Germans invaded September 1, 1939. When it became obvious
that they were losing, his unit retreated east. The unit
broke into smaller and smaller units so as to be less
noticeable until finally those Dyonizy was left with
decided to go as individuals. Dyonizy met a farmer and
exchanged clothes. Had Dyonizy been caught in Polish
military clothes, he could have been killed.
He walked east until he reached a train yard. He met a
train engineer who agreed to let him ride the freight
train east to Brzesc on the Bug River. From Brzesc, he
had 100 miles to go on foot to reach Pinsk. The land was
under Soviet control, but it was where his family was,
and it was the only home he knew.
At one point during his walk home, Soviet soldiers
stopped him and demanded he show his hands. The Soviets
were killing all military officers and intelligentsia so
as to remove all the leaders. Dyonizy's big, rough,
calloused hands let him live, and he got home.
When he got home, he found his hometown under the control
of the Russian Soviets. He worked where they told him to,
and they told him to work on the railroad. He befriended
another Polish man, and together they stole food from the
Russians. The food was moved on the trains, and Dyonizy
and his friend helped themselves, to feed their families,
and to feed some folks who were not supposed to be there:
Polish partisans, hiding in the woods. Dyonizy's friend
had a small wagon, and they used it to move the food.
A year later in Pinsk, he married a local Catholic woman.
Officially, Dyonizy's religion was Russian Orthodox, but
he had little use for any religion; he viewed all
"men of the cloth" as bandits, but the woman he
wanted to marry was Roman Catholic, and Olga was not
going to accept less than what she could view as a valid
marriage. Olga could read and write and had graduated
eighth grade, and Dyonizy likely saw Olga as a little
"higher class" than he saw himself, so Olga's
standards were accepted. Dyonizy and Olga married in
front of a priest in a Catholic marriage ceremony in
March 1941. By doing this, they risked their lives since
religion was outlawed by the Soviet Communists who
controlled Pinsk. The priest promised that no papers
would ever be found to prove the two had married in a
religious ceremony. It is likely that the priest created
no paper trail. Paper was not necessary for the marriage
to be valid in the eyes of the Catholic Church; all that
was needed was that Dyonizy and Olga made vows to each
other in front of a Catholic priest.
Later in 1941 the German Nazis took control of Pinsk. The
Nazis kept Dyonizy working on the trains, and Dyonizy
kept liberating food that was being moved on the trains.
Once the Germans arrived, however, it became problematic:
His friend with the wagon was Jewish and was removed by
the Germans quickly. With no friend, there was no wagon.
Also, the Germans kept better records than the Russians.
Nonetheless, Dyonizy was able to continue with food
In March 1942, Olga gave birth to a son, Victor. Sometime
while Dyonizy was living in Pinsk under Nazi control, he
witnessed a scene of Nazi soldiers going into a
community, ordering all of the people outside, separating
the people into two groups, and machine gunning the
people in one group. None of these people were Jewish,
according to Dyonizy. By then, the Jews had been removed.
Most likely, the Nazis got their point across: "We
are the rulers here, and you will live or die by our
Early in the second half of 1943, Dyonizy was confronted
by Nazis who knew he was stealing food, and who knew part
of the reason why he was stealing food. The Nazis gave
Dyonizy two bad choices: Tell the Nazis where the
partisans are hiding, and the people hiding surely will
be killed, or do not tell the Nazis where the partisans
are hiding, and the Nazis will kill Olga and Victor.
Dyonizy chose to betray his friends who were in hiding,
and they were killed. [Had Dyonizy told me this story, I
might not have believed it. Instead, I was told the story
after his death by his Polish friend and neighbor. The
irony was that, when the woman told the story, she had
absolutely no empathy for Dyonizy's plight. Over 45 years
after Dyonizy had been forced to make the choice, even
months after his death, this Polish woman could not
understand why Dyonizy had betrayed his compatriots, and
she spoke negatively of him because he had done so.
Apparently she had learned because of a confidence shared
by Dyonizy or Olga. If there had been any hope for
understanding or compassion, Dyonizy had not found it.]
On November 10, 1943, the Germans removed many Poles from
Pinsk. These were non-Jewish Poles; the Nazis had already
removed the Jewish Poles. Dyonizy, his wife, and son were
packed onto cattle cars and taken to Dachau, German. The
people were packed so tightly that they could not sit.
Dyonizy, Olga, and their baby Victor were at Dachau for
less than a month. Living conditions were unhealthy. They
slept in a triple-decker double bed, with one family to
one mattress. There was no running water. The baby got
diphtheria. The family was moved again, this time to
Augsburg, Germany, where the parents would be held as
forced labor (slave labor). The parents were put into
separate barracks. The baby was taken to what was called
a hospital. There were Catholic nuns at the hospital who
prayed for the baby. Perhaps they knew in advance what
would happen if the baby did not get well fast. On
December 31, 1943, Dyonizy and Olga were told to go to
the hospital to see Victor. A Nazi physician told Olga to
hold her baby as Dyonizy watched. The doctor gave Victor
an injection; the baby began convulsing immediately and
died. The doctor's response was to walk away as the
mother held her convulsing baby. While it cannot be
proven that the physician intentionally killed the baby,
that is most likely what happened. It was the last day of
the year, and orderly Nazis liked clean books. That New
Year's Eve, Dyonizy and Olga wandered the snowy streets
of the slave labor camp, crying.
When I was told this part of the story by Dyonizy, I said
in shock, "They killed Victor." It seemed
obvious. Dyonizy apparently had never been able to admit
that horror to himself. He looked stricken and said,
"NO! He had an allergic reaction!" The old man
then began pacing and twisting his hands. It was a horror
he could not admit even forty years later, even when he
was able to state the simple facts.
Victor, born 6
March 1942, died Dec. 31, 1943
By June 1945, the Americans reached
Augsburg, and the camp was freed. Three months later,
Dyonizy and Olga's second son was born. They named him
"Bogdan," Polish for "gift of God."
That name was popular among mothers who gave birth after
surviving Nazi slave labor camps.
After the Yalta Conference (where the Allies gave the
Soviets the part of Poland that the Soviets had invaded),
Dyonizy and Olga had no home to return to. The town that
had been their hometown was suddenly part of Russia. Had
they returned to Pinsk, Joseph Stalin's forces would have
had the Polish couple killed as traitors for having
"allowed themselves to be captured by the
Germans." Instead, they remained at the camp; it had
become a refuge camp under the control of the United
States Second Army.
In 1949, Dyonizy brought his family to America thru
sponsorship of Catholic Charities. They arrived at Ellis
Island and moved to Wisconsin where Dyonizy farmed an
American doctor's land for a year. Then he moved his
family to a small apartment they shared with another
family; he worked in a factory, and Olga cleaned offices.
Two years later, the two were able to buy a tiny house in
a Polish neighborhood. By American standards, it was not
much more than a shack, but it was their home.
Dyonizy spent his working years in various low-end jobs,
typically doing factory work or janitoring. Before the
days of the feminist movement, Olga worked because she
had to; she cleaned offices and worked in cafeterias.
It would be nice to leave the story here: Dyonizy
struggled hard for his family, bought a home, and worked
till the end. And it would be correct to say those
things, but it wouldn't tell Dyonizy's story completely.
Like many Nazi camp survivors, Dyonizy struggled with
depression and isolation most of his years in America,
particularly after Olga died of cancer. Two months after
the 50th anniversary of Poland's attempt to stand up and
fight back against Nazi Germany, Dyonizy ended his own
life. In the two years before he killed himself, three
other men in his community who were also Polish Army
Veterans and Nazi camp survivors had made the same
to a photo of Dyonizy and Olga
Dyonizy's parents and siblings