Anna Sokulska Forster and her family lived in a modest house on a small holding with some animals, crops and fruit trees in a village called Lasków, north east of Lwów (Lviv). Between the two world wars, Lviv was in Poland; but the border between Poland and Ukraine gradually moved westwards, as Russia annexed new land, and by 1939 Lviv had been brought into the Soviet Union as part of Ukraine. This proved problematic for Anna’s family. Her father had been given the small holding as a reward for fighting with the Polish forces against the Russians in the Polish-Soviet War of 1919–1921. The Polish army had achieved an unexpected victory in stopping the Soviets from taking communism west into Europe. Anna’s father’s involvement meant that he was on a list of suspected ‘enemies’ of Russia, marked out for immediate deportation to a prison camp in Siberia. This would mean leaving the family home forever.
The house had a loft in which food that the family had prepared for the winter was stored. This included sausage, ham, pickled cucumbers, sauerkraut, bottled fruits, dried mushrooms and jams. Anna’s parents had planted an orchard of cherry trees and there was a forest nearby where the family picked the mushrooms. There was no running water but the house had a well outside. Anna remembered going to school on a horse-drawn sledge in the winter and walking to the market at Lopatyn, the nearest town. She loved hay making in the summer because of the smell of the freshly cut grass.
Anna’s father was the village mayor and had an office at the top of the school building, which was near the co-operative building where dances were held on the first floor. Dances like those depicted in the first panel – a vibrant reminder of happy times before displacement. Can you imagine your life changing forever one day, when you are told at gunpoint to collect what belongings you can carry and leave the home you had grown up in? What would or could you take with you – and how would you feel, having to say goodbye to everything else?
A house is so much more than a building with walls, windows and furniture: it is a foundation for life, a place that grounds and prepares us for the wider world, and (for most people) also a place of security and comfort to retreat back to when we need to ‘go home’. Displacement robs forced migrants of all of that, and much more besides.