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< Echoes of Memory

“Volunteering” for Service in Poland


by Marcel Drimer

Government Agricultural Farms known as Panstwowe Gospodarstwa Rolnicze (PGRs) were established in the late 1940s on large farms confiscated from rich farmers. These farms were now owned by the government, as well as the large farms in the Regained Territories incorporated into Poland from Germany after World War II. They were fashioned on the Soviet Kolkhozes (collective farms), and were equally unproductive. Many farmers left the PGRs for a somewhat better life in towns and, as a result, there was a shortage of farm workers.

At the same time, the government established a paramilitary youth organization, Sluzba Polsce (Service for Poland). It was an arm of the ruling Communist Workers Party whose purpose was political and ideological indoctrination, with some military training. Membership in Sluzba Polsce was mandatory. It also used free “volunteer” labor to work on the PGRs. During the harvest time, we spent many Sundays working there.

One summer, just before the end of the school year, a delegate from PGR came to our school with a party representative to recruit boys 16 years and older to "volunteer" for two weeks during summer vacation to work on a PGR. 

We were to work in the fields and orchards six days a week, 11 hours a day. Sunday mornings were for military training. The rest of the time was for rest and recreation. We did not get paid. This schedule did not allow for time to go to church. Except for a few Jewish boys, all prospective “volunteers” were practicing Catholics. What would happen if one did not volunteer, somebody asked the party representative? “If you want to graduate, you better volunteer,” came the terse response. And so I signed up, giving up time that I could have spent lazily: reading, meeting with friends, or just doing nothing.

The two weeks on the farm were hard work. Once I was asked to retrieve a horse from a nearby village where it had been fitted with new horseshoes. Imagine a city boy trying to ride a horse bareback for the first time in his life. To add insult to injury, the horse’s shoes were improperly fitted, causing the horse to stumble repeatedly and the rider (me) ending up on the horse’s neck. It must have looked ridiculous, entertaining people from a passing train. I, however, was not amused, and suffered from a sore backside for many days. This experience may be one of the reasons that I became an engineer and not a jockey.

After graduating high school in 1953, I considered studying combustion engines. This specialty was no longer available at the Polytechnic Institute of Wrocław. Instead, an Agricultural Machinery Department was established to support mechanization of the PGRs. I was encouraged to enroll. After graduating in 1957 with a bachelor of science in mechanical engineering specializing in agricultural machinery, I worked for about six months in an agricultural machine repair shop.

Wałbrzych was a coal mining town, and I got a job in a coal mine machinery design office, which was more interesting and better paying.

The PGRs, as with many other government enterprises, were subsidized by the government, and despite that, were still a failure. Before World War II, Poland was an exporter of food, but during the Communist era, the country had to import food.

All this “volunteering” did not make me averse to volunteering in general. There is “volunteering” Communist style, and volunteering from the heart.

© 2019, Marcel Drimer. The text, images, and audio and video clips on this website are available for limited non-commercial, educational, and personal use only, or for fair use as defined in the United States copyright laws.

Tags:   echoes of memory, volume 12marcel drimerlife after the holocaustpoland


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